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BuzzStream (Paul May) talks openly about his SEO Software

Last week I interviewed Jon Henshaw from Raven Tools. This week I’m proud to introduce Paul May from BuzzStream. I’ve been using BuzzStream for well over a year. If you are looking for an excellent Link Building tool, in my humble opinion this is the best. It’s nothing else than a hardcore Link Builders toolbox.
Over the coming weeks I shall be sharing interviews I’ve had with the market leaders of SEO software companies and asking them straight questions and I expect to receive great honest replies. If you haven’t been requested by me yet, please drop me an email.

Please enjoy.

  1. Can you describe BuzzStream as if I knew nothing about it?
    BuzzStream is a suite of tools designed to help marketers promote their products, services and content. We have a product designed for PR professionals and another for SEOs. The SEO product makes link building more effective by centralizing all the information about the organization’s link building activities and relationships and by automating the manual, time-sucking steps involved with prospecting, link research, outreach, engagement tracking and link monitoring.
  2. What was your inspiration for creating BuzzStream?
    My co-founder, Jeremy Bencken, started a company prior to BuzzStream called ApartmentRatings.com (a successful apartment hunting site that he eventually sold to Internet Brands). Virtually all of his traffic came through organic search and he found that his biggest challenge in building up that business was link building and PR. Given how competitive his market was, they needed a high volume of quality links to make an impact on the SERPs, and to get people to link, their outreach efforts had to be highly relevant and personalized. So finding a way to scale their efforts without sacrificing the personalized, approach to outreach that was needed to get results was a huge challenge. He’d tried to make this work with spreadsheets, desktop-based link management tools and general purpose CRMs, and none of them met his needs.
    So that was the original inspiration for the idea, and from there we spent a lot of time validating the market by talking to customers. From these discussions, we came to the conclusion that this problem was actually part of a bigger trend developing in the market.
    We believed that SEOs were going to need to focus more on quality links, which required more relationship-building and personalized engagement, and PR pros and social media marketers were going to need to focus more on scale. So we saw a lot of overlap in the work required of SEOs, PR pros and social media marketers and, this was going to require tools to help coordinate and control content publicity efforts among teams.
  3. Since the commencement of your SaaS product, what have been the highs and lows for BuzzStream?
    The biggest high was when we launched the company at PubCon South in 2008. We had a very positive response and it felt like we’d just nailed it. The biggest low was three months later when we came out of beta and started charging for the product. Based on the response we’d gotten, we expected a large number of early signups and it just didn’t happen. This was partly just a timing issue and partly because of things that were missing from the product, and once we got over the hump, things picked up quickly. Regardless, it was a really scary time for us. It would have been very easy to decide that it just wasn’t worth continuing at that point. I’m glad we fought through it.
    Having gone through this, what I’d say to others who are bootstrapping is that, by its nature, starting up a company is a rollercoaster ride and you have to find a way control your emotions…. things are never as good or as bad as they seem when you’re in the middle of it. The two keys for me are to focus on the trend in your metrics and focus on the product above all else (nothing moves the needle like product improvement). I don’t get swept up in the highs or lows as much anymore because I know the trendlines for our high-level metrics (signups, conversions, and churn) and our usage metrics are strong.
  4. Which top 3 features of BuzzStream would you say outshine the competition?
    I think it’s hard to point to specific features as “the reason” people buy a product…what typically makes a product great for a certain type of customer is how well it fits in their workflow and how much of their process it helps automate. We provide a single system that’s specifically focused on the link building process. That focus is something our customers value.
    That said, there are a few features that customers consistently say that they get the most value out of:

    1. The Buzzmarker and “mass Buzzmarker”
      Whether you’re trying to research a single site and add it into your database, or research a large list of sites, BuzzStream’s data collection capabilities are top-notch. You can “bookmark” a single site, import a list (e.g., a competitive analysis pulled from Open Site Explorer or Majestic) and BuzzStream automatically discovers contact information, social profile information and metrics (PageRank, mozRank, unique visitors, inbound links, site age, etc.). This is a big time saver.
    2. Communication tracking
      BuzzStream captures any communications between you and your contacts without any work required on your part. BuzzStream has IMAP integration, so any emails sent to or from your contacts are automatically added to the contact record. Similarly, any tweets between you and your contacts are automatically added. You can use this for more effective outreach and targeting by filtering on things like “show me all contacts that I emailed three days ago and that haven’t responded,” or “add contacts to this campaign that I’ve reached out to in the past and that have linked to me.”
    3. Centralized database that’s easy to segment for campaigns
      When you add a website or “influencer” into BuzzStream, it’s added to both your central contact database and the specific project you’re working on. The ability to filter this master list in multiple ways gives you the ability to leverage your database to build outreach lists that are very targeted to each campaign. You can filter on tags, metrics, communication history, inclusion in past projects, whether or not they’ve linked to you in the past, etc.
  5. Do you have time to read the SEO blogs while developing BuzzStream, if so, which blogs/twitter accounts do you follow?
    I follow a pretty big list of sites.  Here are some of my favorites.
    As far as the more well-known SEO bloggers, I love reading Aaron Wall’s posts.  His posts are never boring, he’s brutally honest and he’s fearless.  His recent interview of the “salty droid” and his breakdown of google’s efforts to expand their market share were as thought provoking as anything I’ve read on any topic in a very long time.
    My favorite PR bloggers –Both John Bell and Shel Holtz have many excellent thought leadership posts on their blogs.  Arik Hanson, John Cass and Heather Whaling have a number of excellent posts about blogger outreach and influencer relations on their blogs.
    There are a lot of great link building bloggers out there.  Debra Mastaler is probably my favorite…great writer, brings a unique perspective to her posts and her material is highly actionable.  Her recent post about building links in an “unsexy” industry is a good example of this.  Others that I get a lot of value from are Paddy Moogan, Eric Ward, Wil Reynolds, Gab Goldenberg, and Justin Briggs.
    As far as content marketing, Lee Odden’s posts are excellent…IMO, no one has done a better job of explaining the overlap of search, social and PR.  Arnie Kuenn’s and Ian Lurie’s posts are excellent as well.
  6. There is a broad range of techniques within the SEO industry, how do you think BuzzStream manages to facilitate this?
    Because the CRM element of BuzzStream is very strong, we tend to do best with people who are focused on link building outreach. It’s very easy to keep track of who you’ve reached out to in the past, who’s linked to you, who’ve you tweeted, etc. That makes it particularly valuable to people who think of link building as “content publicity” and people who are working in a team environment.
    That said, because of BuzzStream’s focus on automation and tracking, the customer base ranges from affiliate sites that do lots of link buying to the in-house team that’s doing very high-touch link building.
  7. Without giving too much away, what juicy features are on your roadmap for the next 12 months?
    We’re doing a lot to improve our prospecting capabilities, list building and outreach capabilities. On the list building side, I want people to be able to leverage their social networking activities and their past outreach activities much more effectively to get links and mentions. Right now it feels like you have people following you, tweeting you, you’re sharing their content, you’re talking to them, etc….but when it comes time to conduct outreach, you don’t have an easy way to leverage all of this to find the people who are most likely to promote your content. Given our social tracking and email tracking, we’ve laid the groundwork for exposing this functionality.
    We also intend to integrate with Google Analytics (for link tracking and reporting) and we’ll expose our API.
  8. What third party tools do you wish you could implement but don’t currently have an API?
    No brainer…Google Plus. They implemented a v1 of their API, but it doesn’t give us what we need for tracking.
  9. Who inspires you in life and how is this transposed into your work life?
    I don’t know if I’d say “inspired,” but there are definitely entrepreneurs that I try to learn from. A good example is Eric Reis, who has driven a lot of the thinking behind the “lean startup” movement. The idea behind it being that the goal of a startup is constant learning and rapid iteration. We have a vision of what our product should look like and where it should go, but that vision doesn’t mean much until it’s faced the realities of the market. Whenever we launch something new, we try to build a “minimum viable feature set” for it, roll it out, test usage in a big way and let that drive our plans. We don’t have to know everything, as long as we can learn faster than others.
  10. What conferences are you attending over the next 12 months?
    We’re trying to figure that out right now…we’ll definitely be picking up our conference schedule this year. The ones that I know we’ll be at are PubCon South and mozCon. I’m hoping that Distilled will run LinkLove again, as we heard great things about that conference.

I appreciate you taking your time out Paul to discuss so openly BuzzStream.

Paul, BuzzStream’s co-founder, has spent the last 15 years either starting companies or working in early stage startups. He was the first employee at support.com (founded by Mark Pincus, founder of zynga) and was a key contributor to the company’s growth from a pre-product startup to a public company with annual revenues exceeding $40 million. He’s held positions in marketing, product management, business development and sales at BMC Software, Tonic (acquired by Symantec), AlterPoint (acquired by Versata), Wavebender and Pluck (acquired by Demand Media).

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Phil Yarrow

Comments

Gab Goldenberg

Thanks for the shoutout Paul, and interesting to hear about the initial hump to get over!