27 minutes | Oct 23rd 2020

Tool Building for Data-Driven Agencies with Eugene Levin

It's hard to be in the digital marketing world without hearing about SEMrush, the all-in-one marketing toolkit for SEO, PPC, social media, content marketing, and marketing research. It's one of the most powerful MarTech tools available to agencies today. 
Eugene Levin is the Chief Strategy Officer at SEMrush. As one might expect, he's an expert in all things digital marketing. 
Today, Garrett asked him some questions about what SEMrush is doing to further develop their tool for agency clients, as well as what his perspective is vis a vis solving some of the common problems that agencies share.
The highlights:
  • [1:25] Why SEMrush is starting to focus more on agency audiences.
  • [4:27] How agencies are using SEMrush.
  • [5:47] A shift in agency focus. 
  • [7:59] The SEMrush Agency Kit.
  • [10:26] The challenges faced by agencies, and how SEMrush has helped to solve them.
  • [13:56] SEMrush's long term goals. 
  • [21:48] Eugene's causes. 
The insights:
Why SEMrush is starting to focus more on agency audiences
In the past, SEMrush offered basically the same product to business clients and to agencies. Yet they soon realized there were problems with that approach.
"These two groups have different problems," Eugene explains.

"For example, if I'm an in-house team, I'm focused only on getting traffic and ranking higher for keywords. I would probably be interested in many other channels beyond SEO. 

A frequent use-case we see in the in-house world is that small company has maybe one or two marketers and they just do everything."
By "everything" Eugene means everything from email marketing to offline marketing and office management.
As for agencies?
"Agencies focus on specific areas of marketing. They use product nudges to provide services, but also to sell. 

So a lot of our features used during prospecting, during lead generation, will be part of the functionality that in-house teams don't really need, but which is really valuable for agencies."
Eugene also points out that agencies treat reporting very differently than in-house teams do. Agencies have to demonstrate their ROI. 
How agencies are using SEMrush
Garrett pointed out how SEMrush has recently linked up with Google Data Studio. In fact, SEMrush just put out a webinar called "From Zero to Data Studio Hero" that can show you exactly how to up your reporting game.
https://youtu.be/KEYBrtk8r-8 
Eugene says that agencies are really appreciating the ability to benefit from this reporting.
"I would say in-house teams would probably benefit from products like Google Data Studio as well, but they don't need to manage complex reporting for many different entities, and that's where Google Data Studios is extremely helpful." 

He says the only downside is these features are only released on higher plans. "But we're thinking about how to make it more accessible for a broader audience."
A shift in agency focus
Eugene has seen an interesting shift in the agency world. 
"We definitely see more and more people going into SEO, like agencies that focused on content marketing previously."
He says that many of these agencies have learned they have to be successful with SEO if they want to be successful in content marketing. He's also seeing a lot of social media agencies that are making the jump.
"Primarily because the organic reach for social media is not what it used to be six or seven years ago. If they want to justify their fees, they need to drive traffic. The best way to do this right now is from SEO. 

So they started to learn how to build content and strategy that will address both social media and search aspects simultaneously."
He's even seeing traditional PPC agencies make a move to SEO. 
"Previously people who started reselling AdWords and building their service around AdWords are now offering SEO as an upsell or cross-sell."
Eugene says that while some of this movement has been happening among larger agencies for a very long time, they are starting to see the same movement happening at the boutique agency level. It's certainly a trend worth watching and worth considering if your agency does not offer SEO. 
The upcoming SEMrush agency kit
SEMrush is working on a new Agency Kit, and Garrett asked Eugene to talk a little bit more about that.
First, Eugene talked about an older project. 
"We launched our academy roughly four years ago. It's been super successful. We helped many people be better in terms of marketing. To get better jobs. To have career progression."

Yet that academy was aimed at individual marketers, rather than agencies.
"We've always felt agencies already know everything." That even if they created good content, agencies would not use it. "We've found it's really hard to build really good courses for agencies."
Yet they tried it anyway.
"We found really experienced people and partnered with them. We're going to release a couple of new courses specifically for agencies very soon. 

If it works, we'll probably continue to expand our agency education materials, focusing less on marketing, and more on how to generate leads, how to build relationships with clients."
You can essentially never be too good at these two skills. He says he himself certainly has experience in these areas, but "I would still take courses that tell me how to sell better." 
They already help agencies generate leads by offering a widget they can implement on their website which allows them to start offering free site audits to their clients. 
"Almost all agencies will provide some sort of free audit, but if you add friction like: someone needs to leave an email, this delay causes many people to drop out of the funnel."
He gives another example. 
"Sales presentations. A lot of people struggle to build compelling sales presentations. We are building tools that will automate this process.

What we've discovered works for a very compelling pitch is specific highlights about what competitors are doing that prospective clients are not doing.

By showing them: hey, this is an opportunity, our agency can help you leverage this opportunity, agencies get a higher probability of closing deals."
Solutions for common agency challenges
"Our main goal," Eugene says, "is to make agencies successful."
Yet SEO, for the average agency, has the most churn. 
"We're working on helping them prove they're achieving good results."
The product in question is Impact Hero. 
"It's in a very early stage right now, so we're just working with a handful of early customers, but the idea is to find out what specific parts of content generate the most value. 

We focus on showing value relative to the stage of the funnel. 

The big problem that people face with content creation is that if you want to achieve a lot on a sort of last-click attribution basis then you just create tons of content for the bottom of the funnel and you pray customers will hit this content before they convert."
He says it looks good on paper, but that at some point there are only so many customers that will reach the bottom of the funnel.
"So you should be building the top of the funnel as well.

Some people have a different problem because they use first-click attribution. They focus on the top of the funnel, and because of it, they generate tons of traffic that doesn't convert. And yet again, you have an unhappy customer."
Eugene says they advocate a balanced methodology. 
"It's very easy to do this with conversion rate optimization. Many are marketing things. Figuring out the right landing page or title for an email, it works perfectly. Yet it was not always applicable to the SEO space."
He says they've only started seeing potential solutions for this problem very recently.
"Now we're building split testing for SEO. 

It works very differently from conversion rate optimization products in the way that instead of having two versions of the same page, A/B versions, you split the website into two buckets. This is my Group A. This is my Group B. 

You implement specific changes only on one of those groups, then you measure the test group vs. the control group." 
He says the results of early tests have been very positive, though so far it only works for websites with a certain amount of traffic and similar types of pages. 
Either way, the end goal remains the same.
"To help agencies show results and to prove that they're bringing value."
What’s your right now cause?
Using SEMrush can help you support a wide variety of causes, because every time an SEMrush employee makes a donation, SEMrush also makes a donation to the same organization. 
"Whatever our employees want to support, we will increase our donation amount. I think this is the best way, empowering employees, instead of me or our CEO making decisions about who to support. We trust our colleagues know better and they'll make the right decisions."
They've supported many causes this way.
Eugene himself is passionate about children's cancer research. He has an eye for causes that don't necessarily get a lot of attention. 
"We're lucky children's cancer doesn't touch too many people, but we as a society also haven't solved the problem because we don't pay enough attention. Every child who dies of cancer is a tragedy."
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