Semrush knows what works in online marketing, and what your competition is up to
Semrush didn’t launch the first competitive intelligence tool for search engine marketing. But what was true at its 2008 founding and continues to be true now, not quite a year after the company’s initial public offering, is that the product is “years ahead of everything else that existed in that space,” as chief strategy officer Eugene Levin told BOSS.
Levin, who started with Semrush in 2016, shared with BOSS what makes Semrush unique and what the leadership team learned from its journey to an IPO.
What Semrush did better was give customers insight into how their competitors were succeeding (or not) in terms of paid and organic searches. This opened a window onto which keywords to target based on what competitors were using. By opening a space to help businesses differentiate themselves, Semrush set itself apart. Co-founders Oleg Shchegolev and Dmitri Melnikov launched the initial SEM tool for themselves and found that others found it useful too. Today, users find the tools so valuable the company is worth about $3 billion.
“We had a great engineering culture and managed to build something really exceptional. Our product was simply ‘bigger’ and ‘faster’ than everything else in that space and eventually we became the de facto standard for SEM competitive intelligence,” Levin said. “Today we have a huge platform with many products. Our first product is just a small part of that platform. But we still deeply care about our engineering culture, and we invest a lot of money in our data assets.”
The key to that success, he said, is having a large database of keywords to provide a full picture of the SEM landscape, and to update them frequently. As evidenced by Semrush’s beginnings, customer feedback has always been an integral part of improvement.
While each tool is great for its particular use case — “You can’t say that a fork is more valuable than a knife. Spaghetti requires a fork, but one needs a knife to eat a steak,” as Levin put it — his favorites are the ones that help novices find their way in an often-confusing environment.
“Site Audit is a great tool to make initial checks of the website. Our Keyword research products help a lot of people who are learning about search engine marketing. And our Writing Assistant can be super helpful for young copywriters, editors, and bloggers,” he said.
Journey to IPO
After a rocky start to its IPO, Semrush’s stock has performed well over the last several months, at one point nearly tripling its initial valuation. Even getting the chance to go public was a monumental feat, Levin said.
“It’s tough. There is a reason why out of millions and millions of businesses worldwide only about 6000 are publicly traded in the U.S. on NYSE and NASDAQ,” he said. “Just to be in a position to do an IPO, a company has to be in a phenomenal financial shape. It requires a team with public markets experience. There are tons of regulatory requirements. And it takes a lot of effort from the team to build this kind of company.
“But even when you have such a company, the IPO process itself is pretty hard. There are many examples when founders sell the company instead of going public because they don’t want to go through an IPO.”
Getting there was a struggle, but once Semrush made it to the mountaintop, he felt a well-earned satisfaction.
“It was a fantastic journey. I can’t say that I enjoyed it the same way I enjoy food or vacation with family, but I feel that I enjoyed it more or less the same way professional athletes enjoy competing in their respective sports. It is an extremely stressful but extremely rewarding experience.”
As long as there have been search engines, SEO and SEM have been important. But the past two years have seen an acceleration of competition in the e-commerce space. As it always does, Semrush is working to make sure it’s ahead of the curve and providing valuable insight for customers. While the company being publicly traded means Levin couldn’t divulge too much about what’s ahead, he is excited about the new App Center, which allows third-party developers to create apps for Semrush customers. Look out for several of those to launch in the coming year.
In this new era, Semrush will endeavor to stand out from the crowd once again and help its customers do so as well.
“Marketing is not getting easier,” Levin said. “There is a finite amount of consumer attention, there is a limited amount of time that they can spend consuming content online. And at the same time, more and more content is created every day to compete for this finite amount of consumer attention. More brands focus on digital marketing, their budgets only getting bigger. Competition is getting tougher.”
What marketers need is not just a high volume of data, but data they can trust. What will work and what won’t work for a target audience, what competitors are doing well, “how to break through the noise.”
SEO is growing less technical but no less important or complex.
“Link building is merging with digital PR,” Levin said. “Content marketing is getting so close to SEO that it is very hard to say where one ends and the other begins.”
In response, SEO teams need to get bigger, with more specialization, he said.
Succeeding in this atmosphere requires the right data and the right tools, precisely the things that set Semrush apart.