The longer I’m in this game, the more I realise that audience and community are at the very top of the “must-haves” for success.
If you can attract an audience on a specific topic, there are dozens of ways you can monetise that audience. For example…
- Selling products they actively want (See GoPro)
- Selling access to your audience to advertisers (see Morning Brew)
- Offering deeper levels of engagement for a fee (see The Hustle)
- Selling advisory services to your audience (See Alex Hormozi)
Take a look at any of the more successful startups today and, generally speaking, a lot of them are starting out by building an audience and community.
The majority of brands focus on one specific audience.
Today I want to explain a brand approach that uses a single product to target 2 different - but overlapping - audiences.
The brand is G2 (formerly G2 Crowd).
They’ve managed to build a brand that does ~$65MM in revenue, and is valued at just over $1B by focusing on audience generation.
Their review site is a destination for many bottom of funnel shoppers who are doing last-minute research into SaaS tools.
According to SimilarWeb, G2 gets an estimated 5.3M visits per month.
It’s a huge amount of traffic - which brings with it a huge number of monetary opportunities.
G2 have managed to build several smart revenue-generating assets into what is - in effect - a completely free information site.
It’s the perfect example of attracting an audience, and leveraging access to it for financial gain.
Let’s take a look at how they do it.
G2’s basic premise
It’s a review site.
But one with a stark difference to 99% of the review sites out there.
The majority of “review” articles are opinion based. And that opinion is of a singular author. Which of course makes it subjective and only really relevant to others in a similar position.
What’s worse, most review articles are simple covers for affiliate promotions.
More often than not the author wants as many affiliate commissions as possible, meaning you end up with few honest, negative reviews on the internet.
G2 is different.
From what I can tell, they don’t use affiliate links on their review pages.
And, generally speaking, the information included is a simple factual explanation rather than a glowing testimonial that pushes you to buy.
G2 leave the reviews to their customers - which offers 2 distinct benefits.
- For other users, they get an unbiased look at the tool from multiple different users - ensuring both honesty and accuracy
- G2 get a huge amount of user-generated content that helps them rank and gives them even more ammunition in their arsenal for financial leverage
User-generated content carries so much more weight than a single author - or team of authors - sharing their somewhat blinkered opinions.
Asana - the example from the images above - has 100 pages of reviews which totals over 7000 people sharing their opinion.
A user researching Asana as an offer is going to find more than a handful of reviews from people with similar use cases and needs.
Add that to G2s filtering options and you’ve got a powerful user-generated content machine that helps people find the information most useful to them.
G2 do this for pretty much all of the SaaS brands out there.
Some have thousands of reviews, like Asana, some have a scant handful.
But the fact is that it’s an incredibly useful site for those looking to make a big financial decision on which tool will help their company grow.
Impartial advice is massively underrated, and G2 is proof that it can - and should - be pursued.
But how is it that G2 are able to generate a $1B+ valuation when all they do is collect information on other brands?
Let’s take a look?
G2’s financial model
So G2 has a high volume of traffic which is generally high purchase intent.
The user is at the end of the purchase journey and just looking for impartial reviews to make their final decision.
Most sites would simply add an affiliate link and be done. It looks like there may be an element of that with G2, but I’m not 100% certain.
Most review pages allow you to take 2 actions.
- Contact the brand
- Request a demo from the brand
The first step of contacting them leads you through to a G2 form which I assume tags you as a lead for the brand you’re researching.
G2 could very realistically get a dollar % of each successful sale they refer.
The second action sends you to the site with a UTM - so again, it could be tracked and a referral commission could be paid to G2.
However, I think the majority of their revenue probably comes from the brands they’re reviewing.
There are a number of “seller” options which give them more revenue potential. I’ve listed the options below with a short description.
G2 unfortunately doesn’t offer an insight into their pricing. I requested a sales representative but got no answer so have had to rely on my Google-Fu.
From what I can understand, there are 3 tiers to the seller service. And I've managed to unearth the below prices.
The prices above might not be 100% accurate, but you can see that an individual brand could be worth a reasonable sum to G2.
The only way G2 can justify those costs is by ensuring they get a good deal of high intent traffic.
Without that traffic, there’s no reason for people to pay for the data or better listings.
So let’s look at how they do it.
How G2 attracts traffic
A quick search into G2 will show you that the vast majority of their traffic comes from search.
What G2 have managed to do is build a sorting house of sorts for high-intent BoFu searches.
It’s very similar to what Adam Enfroy has done with his site, the only difference being that G2 offers more impartial reviews as they’re user-generated.
While Adam Enfroy has multiple BoFu article templates and approaches to rank for high-intent keywords, G2 really only use one.
I’ve broken the page down below, but it is really little more than a run-through of the company and what they do before getting into the user reviews.
- An expandable description of the brand, what tey do, and how they’re different from the competition
- Basic pricing information
- “Official” resources - paid for and uploaded by the brand through the “Seller Solutions” offers
- Customer reviews
You also have the right-hand side bar which offers simple summaries and links to pages to do competitor comparisons.
But generally, that’s it.
It’s a super short page in terms of the content G2 put together.
And yet it ranks in the top 1-3 spots for the majority of these reviews.
For the Asana review, it’s the second organic result for a competitive seed keyword that gets around 2000 searches per month.
“Hold on Pete, in your Adam Enfroy study you talked about how the long form content was one of the keys to ranking well. I could easily beat G2 with content”.
Yeah, you probably could.
Their content is short and to the point.
A lot of people like Enfroy are stealing traffic by doing things in more detail.
But there’s a credibility that comes with being a third party like G2 and Adam Enfroy.
Brands could, in theory, easily beat G2 with better content and rank above them in the SERPs.
But think about it this way - who’s going to believe the brand that produces a “best of “ list and ranks themselves #1?
It’d be like Leonardo Di Caprio setting up a new award ceremony where he always won best actor. People would view it as arrogant and of little real value.
G2 has built a name as an impartial review site through their user-generated reviews.
Which means these reviews hold more intrinsic trust and value than a single person’s opinion.
Thus more people trust the reviews and are willing to use them. Which brings us on to the next point.
All in all, G2 is going to become a desired destination because people believe the reviews they have.
How G2 ranks so high in the SERPs
If we’re being brutally honest the G2 reviews are short and pretty dull. Everything you want in an impartial review.
But this kind of content doesn’t usually rank well.
Unless you have a tonne of backlinks.
Which G2 does. G2 has 22M+ backlinks from 50,000+ referrers according to SEMRush.
Of course they’re going to rank well with so many others pointing to them and saying “listen to what these guys say”.
How do you generate so many backlinks? Well, when you look at the anchor text it becomes pretty obvious.
A lot of the biggest backlinks they have are talking about a brand they’ve reviewed’s standing or are requests to drop a review on G2 on behalf of the brand.
They’ve basically got the brands they feature to link back to G2.
They’re able to do this because G2 has built a reputation as a trustworthy impartial source of reviews.
Smart brands will want to leverage their G2 reviews in as many ways as possible.
G2 lean on this and encourage backlinks through 2 primary means.
- Getting brands to reference their standing on G2 through embeddable badges and rewards
- Getting brands to get their users to leave a review on G2 - which requires them to link to G2’s relevant review page
It’s an incredibly smart approach.
G2 have created no real product themselves. They are - in essence - a database of all SaaS apps out there.
But they’ve managed to build enough trust and a big enough audience to guarantee desire from the brands they feature.
Which means the can get backlinks and JVs to help them continually rank well.
It’s super smart positioning to be the impartial reviewer.
But once people are on the site, how does G2 then convert them?
How G2 converts traffic
G2 doesn’t necessarily convert the traffic they attract.
The search traffic that goes to their site in effect becomes the commodity they sell.
So, they really need to optimise for increased traffic (which they do through the backlink generating reviews and rewards) along with the CTR through to the client’s site.
Here’s the thing.
G2’s traffic will remain high due to the backlinks they’ve amassed.
However, they can “turn on the tap” of leads for each brand whenever they choose to.
All they need to do is optimise the profiles getting good traffic to include better CTAs and lead gen assets.
They could easily add this to every brand on the site. However, they don’t.
After looking through a lot of listings, it looks like G2 hold the “lead tap” ransom. If you want to turn it on, you’ve got to pay them for the privilege.
What you’ll notice is G2 generally ave 3 levels of reviews on the site.
- Unclaimed - this has the basic information of the brand which I believe to be written by G2 staff
- Claimed - The brand owner has come forward to claim the brand and offer some basic edits to the page information
- Claimed + payment - The brand is paying G2 to have more control on the information that’s listed on the page along with more custom CTAs
The first 2 levels appear to be free.
But from the 3rd level the brand has to pay, and the listing becomes a very powerful lead generation element from there on.
1 - Unclaimed listings
When you look at the sites that are as yet unclaimed, there is no direct, apparent CTA on the page.
It’s a very basic explanation of the brand.
The information included is the absolute basic information someone would need to get a fundamental understanding of what this company does.
The reviews are already in full effect, as this is what G2’s traffic is really in.
If you find your brand on G2 and it’s not yet claimed, you can reach out and claim it.
2 - Claimed listings
It appears as though claiming your brand’s page will allow you to get the CTA buttons to request a demo or check out the site added in.
If the page is claimed, the “request a demo” button appears.
The information on the page isn’t much more detailed than the unclaimed profile.
However, you still have the reviews and you can turn the page into a proper lead gen source with the addition of a “Request a Demo” button.
What is still missing though is a link CTA to check out the brand without handing over your email info.
3 - Claimed and payment listings
The final stage is when a brand pays for their listing on G2.
For brands that have a lot of reviews and/or need to leverage G2’s reputation to convert more users, they can pay to have a lot of control over the information provided.
In Asana’s case they have extra text sections and have uploaded multiple custom images and downloads.
When you look through, it’s updated by an Asana employee.
They also add other CTAs to the site (with UTM parameters) so you can go to the brand’s homepage direct from G2 without having to hand over your details.
In short, the brand gets a lot of control over the listing information for the yearly fee.
This next bit is conjecture on my part, but after clicking around multiple profiles I’m seeing the above pattern and I believe it means one thing.
G2 likely sets up the most basic review pages for any and all new software they can find.
These pages are minimally filled out with the basic information, have no way to collect leads, and an almost hidden clickable link to take you through to the site.
Their purpose is to exist and generate genuine user reviews.
See this page on Taskrabbit as an example.
If a brand starts getting reviews/traffic or G2 can see it is a heavily used service, I’d bet my bottom dollar they have a sales team representative reach out to the founder to claim the profile.
When they claim the profile, they get that little “claimed” badge along with the ability to collect high-intent leads directly from G2.
See the page for VidIQ as an example.
However, the information included is still very light and not particularly helpful.
However, they now have the founders email and contact details through the claim process.
I’m sure a sales representative will once again reach out to brands who have high levels of traffic and interest on G2.
They’ll talk about the benefit of upgrading their account to a paid version and what it could do for the brand.
If they pay up, then they get to add a lot of useful information and get the direct link through to their home page.
A direct link you’ll note has a UTM parameter to make it easier for the marketers to check the ROI of that $10K+ spend.
Check out Asana’s page for this.
Here’s the thing.
According to SEMRush, the Asana profile gets around 2.3K visitors per month.
That’s 2.3K high-intent users every month.
If we assume a very low conversion rate of these visitors to users of Asana (we’ll say 1% for now), then G2 is providing Asana with 23 users per month.
I’m sure it’s higher as the intent is very high for people looking at impartial reviews of a service.
23 users / month X 12 months = 276 new users per year from G2 alone.
To break even on that $10,000 spend, they’d need each user to spend $36 for that year.
A very low LTV.
In short, G2 makes sense as an acquisition source because it’s a lot cheaper than any other PPC channel I know of.
The whole system of a 3-tier offer also goes back to another study we’ve done.
In particular, the Sam Ovens model we spoke about.
Providing one offer that goes deeper at every stage means you can attract one audience and charge them increasing amounts to get deeper access and/or service.
G2 does this very well, and have even got the basic 3 tier approach.
- Stage 1 is do it yourself - you have to drive your own reviews
- Stage 2 is done with you - G2 will help you by allowing you to use their site to generate leads
- Stage 3 is done for you - G2 will allow you to customise their listing and use it as a full acquisition channel
At each stage, the information provided to the customer is increased, and the friction to get in touch with your brand is decreased.
I love this approach as there’s a natural funnel built into the offer.
As your base offer starts performing, it makes sense for the customer to upgrade to the next offer.
G2 have managed to get great results with this.
Thanks to the badges, review requests, and embeddable elements for customer trust they get a tonne of backlinks.
For early stage startups that haven’t yet generated a tonne of domain authority, even G2’s basic review page will likely outperform their assets.
So it makes sense for growing brands to go to G2 and pay them for better listings, which in turn raises overall DA and starts the cycle again.
You can see that in effect below. VidIQ’s G2 page is the #1 organic result / featured snippet for “VidIQ reviews” despite the page having very little content.
G2’s backlink generation has allowed them to create an easily saleable asset that makes converting new customers easy.
How G2 retains customers
Here’s the thing.
In the current climate, selling a personalised and updated G2 listing page is a relatively easy sale.
For a buy-in of $10K, a brand can get…
- #1 SERP results for multiple high intent searches
- Access to data that highlights which companies have been reviewing them on G2
- Information that will help them flesh out ICPs and understand who the best people to sell to are
For $10,000, that’s really not bad.
The leads from G2 will be very high-intent. And a brand can get detailed information on leads seriously considering buying.
It makes a lot of sense for a brand looking to generate better lead gen.
Here’s the thing though, G2 is going to be seen as a performance marketing channel.
As soon as the $10,000 spend generates less than $10,000 in revenue for the brand, it becomes a useless channel.
To avoid this and retain paying clients, they need to keep the traffic and leads they generate for those clients consistently higher than the spend they take.
The best way for G2 to do this is to continue ranking for high-intent searches, and optimising their site for the maximum amount of engagement, demo requests, and click-throughs.
It’s a full-stack marketing approach. G2 have to look at everything from the SEO of pages and the site on the whole, to optimising for conversions on behalf of their paying clients.
In addition, they need to walk that fine line between being a simple lead generator and a trusted source of information.
If they go too hard on generating leads, the value of the reviews they provide becomes lesser and they’ll tank their lead conversion rate.
It’s a hard line to walk.
But I think G2 have built in some very smart elements ot make it easier for them
If we distil their goals down to the absolute basics, G2 only really need to...
- Generate more reviews (for denser, more useful content and thus value for end users)
- Increase the level of traffic to the site
- Improve CTR through to client sites
With these 3 goals, G2 has everything they need to build their reputation and have the leverage they need to sign increasing amounts of high-ticket clients.
What I really love is the simple loop they’ve built into their system that enables this.
It’s a simple system which means every new sale helps increase the metrics across all 3 key areas.
Which in turn offers more leverage for future sales.
Here’s how it works.
Step 1 - Generate traffic to a new listing for a brand just added to G2
The first thing G2 does is generate a basic profile. This is the step 1 in the 3-tier service mentioned above.
They fill it out with the basic details and - thanks to their existing reputation - attract users to offer reviews on the service.
Step 2 - Get the brand to upgrade their account
They’ll then get the brand to claim their profile and, if the interest is there, pay the $10,000 to fill in custom details and get access to data on interested browsers.
Step 3 - “Help” the brand generate more conversions
G2 does this in a few ways.
First up, they help you “generate more reviews”. Which of course are recorded on the G2 platform thus increasing the value they provide to more users.
They help you generate them through advice and free Amazon gift vouchers.
All of this helps G2 fill out their review pages which increases their value to new users.
That extra content, also improves the depth of the content and so helps them rank higher in the SERPs. Further increasing traffic and their reputation as “the best place for reviews”.
That reputation is then leveraged once more.
Step 4 - Generate backlinks on the back of that reputation
The reviews G2 generates are gold to a brand.
Social proof is a high persuasive form of marketing. Especially when hosted on an impartial review site.
All of the reviews G2 collect are - for the right price - made available to the brand.
The brand can use G2’s reviews to remove hesitation in new customers
They often do this through a strategic positioning of the results, as seen below for ActiveCampaign.
These mentions require a review back to their page on G2 - which is a high-value backlink increasing the overall DA and ranking of G2.
And finally, when relevant, G2 will also give out award badges for things like “Best in category”.
These badges can be embedded on the brand’s site - which again generates another backlink to G2.
G2 have basically turned the idea of paying for backlinks on its head.
THey have companies paying the to give them a backlink.
Step 5 - Rinse and repeat
The end result of this is a growing reputation for G2.
The backlinks they generate help them rank higher, which helps them generate reviews for more brands, which gives them better leverage to negotiate with those brands, which means they can get backlinks from those brands… and so it goes on.
G2 simply begins the looping funnel again to help them bring on more paying clients and continually climb up the rankings for other terms.
It’s a great way to use the needs of your paying clients to grow your own position.
Which then helps you get more paying clients.
The G2 Growth Model
The G2 growth model is pretty cyclical in it’s approach.
They’ve generated a base level of traffic which has allowed them to leverage their reputation and reach.
They use that reach to get brands to pay for access to the audience, but part of the bargain naturally further increases G2’s reach and traffic.
Thuis giving them the resources they need to close ever greater relationships.
It’s one of the smartest uses of an audience I’ve seen, and is something a lot of brands should be aware of - if not for implementation yourself, then for the very reasonable cost of a lead generation machine.