Hi Olga. Thanks so much for joining me today on the SaaS Breakthrough podcast. How are you doing today?
Good. Hi, I'm very excited to be here and I'm regular listener. So that's twice as exciting to be a guest.
Yeah, well, for me, it, for me as well. I love having listeners on. You obviously know what we're all about here on the podcast and I'm really proud. I'm proud as a host to have you here. So thanks for being on and thanks for listening. But you are joining us from SEMrush, a company that most of us in the SaaS industry know and love. A big part of a lot of our toolkits that we use. But for those of our audience members who don't know yet, maybe you want to explain a bit about what the company is SEMrush, when it was founded, who the customers are and what you're doing uniquely in the marketplace.
Sure. So SEMrush is kind of all in one marketing platform that allows marketers to do SEO content marketing, competitive analysis, advertising research and also social media marketing from one place. So it's a really like we, we started with SEO and PPC keyword research mainly, and the main analytics, and then we expanded the toolkit to content and to traffic analytics and now to social media. So it's kind of a really like powerhouse for different tools.
Yeah, definitely a powerhouse. How long have you, has the company been around for?
It was founded in 2008. And actually well, it emerged as internal service. The founders had a lot of businesses and then they were optimizing websites and they kind of built the tool for themselves and then started sharing it and they saw that it was organically growing faster than anything else they've had. So they focused on this, but up until 2012 and 2013, they were not really doing any marketing and they were working with few affiliates and there was also SEOquake toolbar that had banners and SEOquake also is owned by SEMrush. And that's how they spread the word. And only in 2013 really marketing started. I was, I think the fourth marketing employee that we had.
Wow. So you've been there for over seven years already. That's fantastic.
Yeah, it was anniversary last week, seven years.
That's really amazing. So, I mean, you're up against other SEO tools out there. It's obviously a very red ocean at this point, obviously also 12 years later from the starting point of SEMrush. And it sounds like, you know, the founders coming off of their own businesses had an idea of how to maybe get this into the market, have that product market fit. But I guess my question is how have you all found product market fit and stayed competitive in this growing marketplace?
When we really started growing we were not driven, I think in top three tools. And Moz was really dominating the market in terms of well brand awareness and then market share. And when I was looking at what they were doing at Moz I was super impressed and I was thinking like, there's no way I'm gonna and well like overcome them, and then in three years, everything changed. It was not only due to our efforts, but also like like in state of the industry. And it, I think it's becoming more and more red ocean, but it was before. The difference with us is that we are market leaders now. And then it's a difficult position when you had someone that you look up to and then try to kind of beat them. And then suddenly there is no one in front of you and then you have to, you are in the lead and that's a completely different mindset and marketing.
And then we shifted a lot. And I think that's why we started also expanding beyond search because we just thought that like we wanted to combine, we wanted to grow our own audience. And so I wouldn't say that it's just the first product-market fit happened organically because it was, the tool was built for SEO professionals. And this, this is up until this day, our core audience. And then we started realizing that SEO is a lot about content. So we added content tools and then, well search has organic and paid. So paid, also was added. Then when you go into search, you see a lot of social media elements like Twitter cards, and also you see different websites ranking for your branded keyword, for example, so it's kind of PR and then we started adding all of the tools that would enable the whole team to improve search engine results. And I think that's how everything emerged. And then we realized that if we added traffic analytics, then we would have not only and that is about search traffic, but also different sources. So that's how we were just adding and growing based on yeah, based on how the market changed and also based on what we, the insights we got from clients.
Do you think kind of the key takeaway there was by staying focused on the product and focused on the product features that would help your customers, you were able to grow into that market leader by not just focusing on just marketing, but actually the product itself?
Yeah. It's it's yeah. It's product first company, I would say. So it was funny that in 2015 the marketing was such an even I don't maybe 2014, we were such an early stage that some like a big release of a database happened without marketing team knowing. So it was already in like on the dashboard and then only then we realized this happening. So like the audience that we had back in the days was so engaged that they were consuming everything that was in the dashboard. And then we were growing really naturally because we were focused on what customers were telling us and about 50% of all the updates happen because of the client wishes.
That's fantastic. That's absolutely phenomenal. And I think, I honestly feel like we could do like a full, like 12 hour long podcast episode together, just talking about all the wins and losses and learnings you've had along the way. But you know, for the sake of time, we'll jump right into marketing initiatives today that are working, things that are very exciting. And I'm sure there's a ton of them. One of the ones that I know you are doing is that Global Marketing Day, it's a 24 hour long online conference. Oh my God, that's crazy. And you live stream that to thousands of people around the world. I would love to go behind-the-scenes a little bit of this. I know last year we did our first summit and that was six hours long, which seemed very, very long. So 24 hours is crazy. Would love to know, why you guys chose to do this event, how you planned it and just the way that you ran it. I would love to know, just more about the strategy and process to create something like this.
Yeah. So we had, we had webinars before and we decided to test in 2018. We decided to test the longer webinar, like seven hours. And then we got 7,000 registrations I believe. And and then we thought that okay, this works. And our audience loves webinars a lot, like we have more than eight webinars a month, I think. And this just we wanted to work with this channel more and then our audience was global. So that's why I thought, okay, we need a global campaign and we needed to go beyond search and gather new audience. And we needed something that would be not branded, but to support it by SEMrush. So an event looked like a really good option, something that we knew how to manage.
And it was truly like 24 hours is global. So that's, this is how the yeah, this is how the idea happened. And the goal was to bring 50,000 registrations. And we started building it and also the reason why we didn't name it as SEMrush conference was because we wanted to have Google, Twitter and other big brands on board. And they're not very keen on supporting the branded events, but they're happy to support some really large event that would be just okay sponsored by company, but would not have this as like as a main thing.
(inaudible) state of the union type or like purely marketing type of.
Yeah. And we really wanted also to get the leads with so obviously leads that have not Gmail, but company address, phone, they convert better than just unconfirmed Gmail addresses.
So we built also Logic on that we built the event for in-house marketers, and then we built the registration form in saying that you need to insert company email obviously any email would work, but if you actually ask someone to put company email, they do it. So this was like one really simple trick with it. And eventually we got 56,000 leads and 70% of those were with company email. And 80% were new leads, like people who never like we didn't have their email address before. So we achieved the goal of getting a completely new audience. This, the topics were beyond search and we had a lot of really big brands joining. So we had, we had Google twice in two studios in Sydney and I believe in the US as well.
We had TV channels, we had Uber, Wework and basically once you get five, six big speakers, others check your website and then they're happy to join as well. But I don't, I know that it doesn't work for all of the industries. For example, if the industry is B2C and it's heavily like for example, influencers they do charge for videos, then you will not be able to get all of those people for free, but in marketing it happens so that you can invite company representatives and then don't pay for it. So that's how we get up the lineup. And then we have
Can I ask about that lineup? That's first of all, this is an amazing initiative, and I'm just so proud of you guys for doing this, this just the logistics seem insane to me. How did you get those first five big logos? Did you cold reach out to them? Did you have connections? What was like the prop to get them on, the proposition to get them there?
We well first we have a huge fan base and we invited some of the clients that we worked with from the big brands. And some of them were just yeah, connections. We work with the media a lot. So like, well, BBC agreed. And also Entrepreneur and Forbes, they just agreed quite easily and it's I think it was just a mix so far on context and then a really aggressive outreach through all of the channels. So our lineup manager, she didn't give up until just someone said no to her, so she just kept following up. And this is, yeah, this is like first you need to reach out to those ones that, you know and then kind of assure that they're likely to agree, but no one really believed. So 24 hour conference just sounds crazy. So we had this year, like we're not doing, we canceled it this year. But once you already had one event and then can show the history, then we had so many people just saying that they would want to be a part of that. But the first event is the toughest and we definitely were first inviting people we knew.
Got it. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So use your contacts, relationships. I also love the fact that you had just an outreach person and, you're bringing in probably marketing strategies of like ABM, outbound, just good followup methodologies. I love that. So then once you had everyone combined, what was it like to, to run the event and keep the attendees engaged? I think that's gotta be the hardest part, right? Like, I think about the six hour event we ran, you said you do seven hour webinars. How do you keep people, continually engaged in the presentation and able to absorb all that knowledge?
We had a format of 15 minutes for the speaker, 15 minutes for the discussion on that topic, and then there is one minute transition and then another topic. And so this is how I believe we kept the audience really engaged because everything changed very quickly. And if you have a 30 minute presentation, like nobody's going to stay well, not nobody, but most of the people just wouldn't be able to watch more than one session. But if you see the constant change of people, that really helps, and also we want to have the TV quality set up. So we really rented the TV studios and the quality, we wanted like also the sound and everything was well, just the same as you would have on TV. So this really made a difference. And also we had the team monitoring the email for the questions. We had the team monitoring the YouTube comments to send to the hosts. So they would ask questions in real time. And we had social media team who were live tweeting and also monitoring comments. So we had a lot of people in the backstage. I think it was during 24 hours that was a team of 36 people working backstage, and then making sure that every channel like email, YouTube and social, mainly Twitter and Instagram was like, we kept that engaged.
That's incredible. That's absolutely phenomenal. From like, looking back on it, what was like the number one win? Obviously the 56,000 leads is a huge one. But what did you walk away from that like really just proud of your guys's, you know, ability to run this thing?
We strengthened the connections with speakers because they just, nobody actually imagined what we were building. And then once they entered the green rooms and once they were able to network with speakers that we invited and then they saw how, well the quality of it. So they were super impressed with us as a company and this strengthened the relationship. Also we actually, while the event, so I only measured there first click attribution for this, because if we think that the, well 80% of the leads were new, that's how you were able to measure, like, what's how they, how well they converted. So I can, I can share that we spend like 200,000 on the event for the production and then for the ads. And when I checked, I can say on spring I think we covered a hundred thousand in revenue already from that fleet. So I would say for branded event and then for, well, first nurturing and then for completely new audience that was, that's that's great. We were not doing that for their revenue, but I would assume that we're gonna, well, we're going to cover the costs for this quite so.
That's amazing. I mean, you typically don't think about getting direct ROI from an event like that. Obviously you said going into it, the initiative was thought leadership, was brand awareness and also lead generation, right. 56,000 new leads. And you probably, I don't know what you guys pay per lead, but I mean, that's basically paying a really good cost for really qualified leads, right?
Yeah. And yeah, well, if, if they were existing and then they knew us before then it would have been a different case, but here the cost per lead was just really, really well.
Yeah. And highly qualified leads coming in too, right. So that's fantastic. Now you mentioned this year's was canceled. I'm assuming that's because of COVID environmental issues?
Yeah, because we would not make it online. We would want people in the studios and I was, yeah, there's no way we're gonna well invite a lot of people. Like we would have insured safety, but still, it's like a lot of fuss and it's honestly not worth the risk. And also everyone's already tired of online events. And then we had, we had the target of 200,000 leads this year. We would have, we would have made it if the well there was no COVID because I just, I just feel that people are so tired then they registered to the events list and if you're one of a kind event and everything else happens offline and it's not 24 hours, then people would would, would register. But now there's no chance we would have gotten 200,000 leads.
Definitely understand that. And I understand setting like that bigger goal now that you guys have run that first event, how you want to do it, you know, I do, I do wonder about event fatigue. I know in the last episode we talked a little bit about that as well. You know, what do you think is kind of the answer to event fatigue? Obviously, you guys are still doing webinars. I know you also have like a private events you ran this year. The SEMrush Summer jam. What do you think is like a worker that you can do right now in this time to be adaptable to the quote on quote you know, event fatigue, online event?
That's, that's difficult. I, well I get tired. Like I don't really attend any events. So I think the, the making sure that people get to network not only listen is key. And I think the entertainment part is really important. The difficulty is that for conferences, they live off the events and this is the, they want as many people as possible. And then for us, it's not the case, like for us in our own private events with influencers, we just we want them to get value out of that. We want them to have fun and that's different. So we were able to let them chat, let them work in small groups. And then also just yeah, around some entertaining things with magician, for example. So if it's a company just looking to engage a small, up to a hundred people audience, then I think building something exclusive private with invitations, it really works because that's what people are looking for now.
That is really interesting. I really like that. So that was the SEMrush Summer Jam. Let me just back up once I kind of jumped a little forward, what was that event? You mentioned, you invited about a hundred people, direct invites. What was the purpose and goal of that? Was that to get around the event fatigue, and you were just testing a different initiative?
We had the event, we had the offline annual event where we fly the product owners to meet the influencers that are our most loyal fans, or someone that we wouldn't want to test and then discuss development hypothesis with. So the product owners, they when they plan ahead, they want to really just do together with the customers and what we discovered on our user conference, we once did. That users are happy. They just said like, yeah, guys, you're doing an amazing job. The tool is really helpful. The only people who are really critical, who help build the tool and just criticize, and then challenge us are the influencers and thought leaders. So those are the people that we test and run the hypothesis with. So we did this offline, we gathered 40 people in Lisbon and Helsinki, and we always change location.
And they pay only for the flights and we cover the accommodation and the, like the program meals and everything it's for two days, two and a half days. And then two days of workshops and then there's entertainment program and obviously networking. And everybody really loves the event because they understand that we hand pick everyone. And everyone's interesting and everyone's a valuable contact. And then they just really enjoy building connections globally. And this year we weren't able to do that because of the pandemic. And we decided to do it anyways. So we used zoom and zoom has breakout rooms. So we had nine product owners and product owners are not alone. Like every room had a moderator. And we also use Myra dashboards and well, just so they would have something where they could put posted notes and then write something.
And then there was the whole program minute-by-minute for the breakout room workshop where they were discussing like outreach process. And then they just so it's an interview that product owner does with all influencers and then maybe they would share something that they're thinking on building, or they would just test whether this would be useful feature. And a workshop was one and a half hours. Then everyone was back into the main room and we had the engagement like an entertainment section. And we had aquiz and at the end we had really fun videos. So I think this, like when you do an event, last couple of minutes are the most important because this is what people leave the event with. So I thought it would be really fun to create like a song together.
And the production company gave instructions for people to sing, I want to be, I want to break free song by Queen and everybody, like, we send small instructions and pieces of the song to all of the participants and then the production company glued this in one song, which was hilarious. And so we played the song at the end and this is how it all finished. So it had the valuable part for us. It had the entertaining part for the guests. What it really lacked was a true networking where they had intimate one-on-one discussions that they used to have offline. But overall it was, yeah, it was just a great experience and our product owners still got the valuable insights that we get every year.
That's a brilliant initiative and love, the video idea. Love just that you guys put so much thought into the entertainment and engagement of the events in both of these initiatives. I think there's a lot of takeaway, a lot of brilliant takeaways from both one being more lead generation, one being more internal strategy slash influencer strategic partnership, relationship building. Right. But two very viable ways to do it. Now of course, you know, I have to touch on SEO. You guys are SEMrush after all. Looking here in 2020, end of 2020, any cutting edge advice or you know, industry changes that you're seeing kind of wrapping up the second half of this year?
I I wouldn't say there's anything cutting-edge, but definitely non-branded search is some, well, it's an untapped niche for a lot of companies where they're not building content that would be higher in the funnel. Like not, well, not optimizing only for their branded searches, but for customer questions that would not involve their brand. And I think you had some brilliant episodes on SEO. And then I would agree on, I really loved the strategy that one of the guests were mentioning that first of all, you need to look at the quick wins where you just start with positions from four to 10 and then see what you, how you can quickly update the existing content. And then after that, you will start thinking where you, where you lack content and then just run the gap analysis and then start writing something new.
So that's what we are doing currently, even in SEMrush, because there's still a really high potential. Like we, for example, we compared HubSpot and their non-branded rankings and ours, and then we are just super tiny compared to them because their blog, they were they were consistent in building that like for maybe 10 years or more. So I have recommended if you, if you have the opportunity to be this HubSpot of your industry, building the insanely well effective blog and going with the strategy of non-branded keywords, then it's something that you definitely need to well grab and do. And something that's, I see more and more is the YouTube SEO because if it's hard to rank for really competitive terms with text then Google still shows YouTube videos on top. And not every channel is SEO savvy. So maybe trying to record a couple of videos that would be helpful would still show your product and would be optimized for non-branded search terms. This, this, this could help.
I love that advice. And I'm thinking that the episode you're talking about is Growth Hackers, but I could be wrong. We'll try to link to it in the resources on the website after the episode is over, I'll try to find that. Cause that is great advice. And I really do love that. And then looking back, I mean, you've been, you've been here for a while at the company, any hard lessons from things that didn't work out as expected, missed opportunities, things you learned from, and you take with you forward?
I have a funny story about a mistake. It wasn't really something big, but we decided to run the campaign with one of the SEO authors where they, where he gave us the rights to use his book. And then we thought of running a campaign where they upgrade from account that's were like is a hundred dollars a month to $200 a month. And the incentive would be a book that is obviously less than a hundred bucks. I don't know how we came up with the idea that book would be a strong incentive for that, but obviously it wasn't working. And but the customers that were already using the guru $200 a month account, they were asking so if I'm already on the guru account, would I get the book for free? And we haven't thought of it.
I absolutely, we were not. And this was, this was the moment where brilliant ideas just somehow pop into my head, but in a crisis situation. And we decided to have a gamification campaign where we would ask those people to set up five tools. And then once they set up new five tools, then they unlocked the book and this was the most successful email campaign we've done with existing clients. So this was a sample of the audience. We haven't sent it to all of the clients, but I think by that was a sample of 4,000 clients. And then from that we had 900 setups. So it was a really, really impressive well conversion, I would say. And then so, but first of all, like I really learned that we need to really think of plan B as well because well the book was, I think the rights were only $5,000. But if we haven't come up with that plan, like we would have just lost that money. So this was kind of a mistake that we fixed and learned from.
You turn like a crisis into something very, very well done. I had a lot of light bulb moment, light bulb moments going off just thinking about how you utilize that as an activation gamification tool and some cool ideas I'm going to steal from you. But the other thing, I just want to say that I thought it was a good lesson is sometimes when you're thinking about those pricing incentives, you really have to be careful about how that affects already existing customers. And I know we've run into that too. It's like, how do we, if you're running a deal, how does it affect your current customers right now? Right. And you obviously, you don't want to piss anyone off or make anyone upset when you're doing those things. So you kind of have to think through that process in that strategy. And then looking forward this year, obviously 2020 being a crazy year for marketers, the adaptability that we've all had to have in just the SaaS industry, are there challenges or opportunities that you're looking forward to moving into 2021 as the market leader already?
We still have to tap into new audiences. We still have search as our primary industry. So we and now we have built a tool for Amazon resellers called Sellerly. And so for us, it's a completely new market. And we just, there's a team of four that's just launching the product now. So we have a huge challenge of a completely new environment we are the new commerce in and yeah, as well, like traffic analytics and market research is welll dominated, their market leaders is SimilarWeb. And this is where we also the well, really the fresh blood. So we have a lot of markets that we need to so conquer. And and then in, in search, I would say that there's always well, it could, well, retention could have been, could be always better.
So we are working on educating our users because some of the users well they say that SEMrush is difficult to understand at first. So onboarding is really important for us, and this is the growth area. And I think that with we actually, we are growing so this year has been great. And also because a lot of businesses who were not really exploring online, they're heavily exploring online and the tools are just one way of them working with it more. But I feel that this is a completely new audience. They're not ready. And then for them, if we had savvy marketing professionals joining SEMrush, and they were aware of what to do, then our job now is to educate those new people who need marketing education and help more than they need the tools.
Yeah, it definitely makes sense education and growth initiatives, really being the big focus of that new audience that are coming on. And it's very interesting to hear which companies got tailwind this year, which ones have headwind from the pandemic, but it sounds like you guys definitely got a big push and you're in a great position. So congratulations, I'm excited, you know, I'm a big fan of you guys and I watch everything on the, on the sidelines, but you know, excited to see what's next for you. And as far as what's next in the episode, I think, you know, what happens next? We're moving on to our lightning round questions, just five quick questions that you can answer with the first best thought that comes to mind. You're ready to do this thing.
Yes! Let's do it.
All right, you got this, you're gonna do great. What advice do you have for early stage SaaS companies starting marketing today?
Hire the best talent. I think it's just, there are so many opportunities, and then there are so many people that are looking for a job change this year, then that I think startups can really find great people. And this works for every startup desktop mobile app or yeah for any company.
Definitely agree. And also if you have a team really try to work with them to make sure you not going to lose your best people. What skill do you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?
Ability to analyze and pivot and just change the approach and then test really quickly and not really be afraid of failing because now yeah, it's, I think more important, more than ever. That's what I expect from my teams.
It's mindset, it's adaptability. It's just having some of that company culture. It's like, it's okay to fail. We're just going to try. What about a best educational resource you'd recommend for learning about marketing or growth?
I actually would recommend Malcolm Gladwell's books. They're all about psychology studies and I think that's the, well, what marketing is, it should be based on.
I love that. That's a great answer. What about a favorite tool you can't live without?
It's the Monday.com. The team where we plan everything, our sprints and then also work in between teams and projects.
It's a great app. It's a really good one. I love their branding and marketing as well. What about a brand business, your team that you admire today?
Well, I can, I can say Monday again I liked the, what they did with the videos and YouTube ads. So this would, this would be one for sure.
That's a definitely a good one. They are, they have a great brand, a great advertising. I love it. But Olga I want to say thank you so much coming on. It was a privilege to have you and SEMrush on the podcast truly as a listener and for me as a fan of what you guys are doing over there, it's amazing. I feel like we could have talked for a couple hours with so much to talk about, but you know, appreciate you coming on and sharing what you did today.
Thank you. Thank you so much David.
It was a real pleasure. Thank you so much. And we'll talk to you soon.