BuzzSumo Director Steve Rayson joined SEMrush as special guest for a webinar, “How to Win with Competitive Intelligence.” Steve answered some additional questions regarding data-driven marketing, the value of SEO tools and how Google may view social sharing metrics.
Question: Any tips for monetizing SEO tools? Can you help entrepreneurs go from startup and free tools to getting paid subscribers?
Answer: In my view it’s ultimately the tool itself that determines the number of paid subscribers you acquire. The tool has to add value to the tasks your target users are undertaking. So talk to your users, listen to them, have them beta test early features, test, test and test again. Be clear on the problem you are solving and the value you are adding at all times.
You then have to be good at highlighting and communicating the value of your tool’s features. With BuzzSumo, the tool has many features and I think we are still learning how to communicate those with most value.
For example, in my view our content alerts are the least recognized but the most valuable aspect of the tool. They save you so much time in alerting you every time a competitor is mentioned, publishes content or acquires a new link. They are also a great way to find new trending content.
However, the top content feature remains the most used feature but even there we need to do more to communicate how you can extract maximum value from the tool with use cases.
My core tip would be to identify the use cases where your tool adds the most value, as if your users understand the value they are much more likely to sign up to be a paid subscriber.
Q: Where do you fall on the perennial question, do social signals affect SEO?
A: Popular content that is well shared will get more views and more opportunity to gain links. If people share, it also adds authority and trust. Shares by people with high authority might lead others to link to that content and refer to it in their own posts.
Fundamentally a good piece of content that attracts a lot of shares may also attract strong links simply because it is good content, thus we have to careful about correlation and causation. Just because there is a strong correlation does not mean there is causation.
Matt Cutts has been clear that Google doesn’t explicitly use social signals, partly out of fear they can be gamed. However, whilst Google authorship is no more I suspect that shares by authorities, however they are defined, rather than simply the number of shares makes a difference.
It would make sense to treat social shares in a similar way to backlinks, and to give more weight to shares by authorities. A tweet from an everyday user is unlikely to have a large impact though because it would be easy to game.
However, well-shared content is also likely to mean more views and therefore potentially attract more backlinks. Thus it would seem logical that a well-shared piece of content will attract more links.
One thing I have been looking at is the relationship between shares and links.
Q: What will be the most important signals to observe about a piece of content that can most positively influence rank?
A: I look for content sharing by people and sites with authority in the form of backlinks and social shares. In social shares I also look for breadth of sharing across networks. A piece of content may be very well shared on say Facebook but well-shared content tends to cut across all networks.
I also think comments are important as they reflect a degree of engagement with the content.
Q: What use can an SEO make of the influencers that can be discovered in tools like FollowerWonk and BuzzSumo?
A: We have found that a share even by a single influencer can increase shares by 30%. Thus engaging influencers with your content is critical.
Influencer outreach is a key part of any amplification and distribution strategy. Building relationships through sharing, interviews and round-up posts all help. However, there is a danger that a small pool of influencers in any topic area gets quickly overloaded.
Sometimes it is better to find niche influencers with small but dedicated followings. A powerful way to identify influencers in my view is to view who shared a piece of specific niche content. Find an article that is absolutely relevant to what you are working on and view who shared that article. Take those sharers and filter by numbers of followers for reach and average retweets for engagement.
Q: Do free users transition well to become paid subscribers or is it better to seek new, paid subscribers.
A: I think it very much depends on the tool. If you are Hootsuite selling a $9 plan then possibly free users will transition to paid customers. In the case of tools like BuzzSumo or SEMrush I don’t think that is the case. I think our free customers are quite distinct from our paying Pro customers as a general rule. For us the free tool is about building brand and giving back to all those hard working individual bloggers and marketers. HubSpot and others also have free tools for marketing purposes rather than for transitioning customers from say their site grader tool to HubSpot itself.
View Steve's portion of the panel below or click through to listen to the entire panel discussion.