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When it comes to having a business, you need a website. And when it comes to having a website, you need to develop strong SEO strategies to ensure you can be being found on the internet by your current and future customers. This is especially crucial on the ever-growing and changing world wide web. That’s where Semrush comes into play. Founded by Oleg Shchegolev and Dmitri Melnikov, Semrush aims to help businesses of all sizes to better understand their analytics and tactical ways to improve their search performance. As veterans in the IT and development world, the company saw an opportunity early on to build a tool that could solve this issue and today it’s one of the leading platforms in the industry. Learn more about the creation of Semrush and some personal anecdotes from one of the founders and current CEO, Oleg Shchegolev, in our latest People Who Rock the Web interview.
Video: Semrush Overview
First, before we get into the interview, let’s watch a quick intro video about Semrush.
What started you in SEO?
It’s not that there’s some extraordinary story behind my embracing SEO (that actually happened as early as 2000). My IT background is so painfully common that I should probably come up with some exotic story on how I sold body parts to earn a startup budget or something. But nope, nothing like that. I was introduced to SEO by a friend of mine who showed me some SEO stuff, which was pretty simplistic back then. Along with Dmitry Melnikov, Semrush co-founder, we did some large-scale experiments, trying out different things, and that’s how the SEOquake tool was released in 2006. So, I guess what started me in the field was genuine interest in IT technologies in general and SEO in particular. I had no idea that only some ten years later we would end up heading an international company with 500 employees.
Tell us about SEOquake & how it’s different from Semrush?
Like I said, it all began with SEOquake, which has quickly become one of the most popular SEO toolbars with around 4-5 million browser installations. That was pretty much our first big experiment and, inspired by its success, we also created Semrush. Semrush started to move forward, and we decided to concentrate on its development. We do update SEOquake regularly, but surely Semrush is our top priority right now. It’s not as if SEOquake and Semrush are different companies; those are just two different products of ours.
What changes in the SEO industry have affected the growth of Semrush?
The SEO industry is all about changes, both major and minor. A lot of things change all the time, and it’s not about these changes affecting Semrush, it’s about Semrush serving as a barometer that reflects even the slightest alterations in search engines’ SERPs and mechanisms. The more unpredictable the situation in the industry gets, the more useful Semrush is as a software that renders any shifts.
What challenges has SEMRush faced and how has it overcome them?
Semrush started at the height of the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and we had to deal with all the negative economic consequences. You can imagine how hard that is when you’ve only just started your business. We were spared thanks to the fact that we already had some money from SEOquake and IT startups at their initial stage don’t need a hell of a lot of investments. Anyway, there had always been a bunch of ‘experts’ who kept telling us that we were going to fail, that we needed to attract more external investments, and who kept giving other advice I couldn’t care less about. I guess these experts are now quite satisfied with their 9 to 5 work they do for pennies. I would consider donating money to them if I knew their contacts.
What’s the best SEO advice?
It’s not that I enjoy giving advice, but if you ask me, my number one advice is: create an engaging website. You can consider thousands of opinions on how to make your website rank higher and explore hundreds of pages dedicated to search engines’ ranking factors, but all of that is pretty useless if your website sucks. Be it some hardcore porn site or some sophisticated blog on post-Nietzschean philosophy; if your content resonates with visitors, you got it.
Apart from that, we recently updated our Ranking Factors study, which sheds light on the factors that need to be taken into account when struggling for top search engine positions. The study is pretty intriguing in the sense that it stresses the importance of user behavior signals like time on site or bounce rate, along with the amount of direct website visits. Hence I would suggest SEO specialists pay more attention to these factors.
Who’s your mentor and what have you learned from them?
While there are some people who would sell everything they’ve got for an opportunity to have lunch with some CEO/investor/whoever they admire, I wouldn’t say there was/is a person in my life whom I watch in awe and consider my mentor. There might be a couple of people I have learned a thing or two from, for instance, the concept of lean production, but I think I am my one and only mentor. I learn from my mistakes and trust my gut. It’s just that you can read hundreds of books and have a dozen of mentors, but that’s purely theoretical knowledge. People only learn when they live something through.
When not working, what do you like to do for fun?
I work hard, and on those rare occasions when I do have some free time, I prefer to spend time with my family and friends. Many of my friends live all over the world, and I certainly love traveling. So I would love to set off on a journey to see them all sometime.
What’s next for SEMRush?
I would like to see Semrush evolve as an all-in-one online digital marketing suite and become even more comprehensive. Most online marketing software companies concentrate on developing some specific features, while I want Semrush to include a lot of equally elaborate tools that cover different areas of online marketing. We’ve already got pretty much everything needed for online marketing, and we want to make it all even better — bigger databases, some new content-related tools (content producers, stay tuned) and local SEO instruments, a new navigation menu. Our product is already an absolute must-have for any marketer, but there’s no limit to perfection. So, for Semrush, the sky’s the limit.
Anything else you’d like to add?
You know, there’s a funny story about two geologists who stumble upon a bear in winter and, of course, try to run away from it right off the bat. One of them puts on his skis and the other one tells him that it won’t help because the bear runs faster anyway. The ski guy says, “I don’t want to be faster than the bear, I just want to be faster than you.” What I mean is, we can’t be perfect, but at least we can do better than others. And I guess that’s a nice start.
Have you used SEMRush? What tips do you have?
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