Interview with Oleg Shchegolev, CEO and Founder of SemRush and SEOQuake

Oleg graduated from the Saint-Petersburg Polytechnic University, the faculty of engineering cybernetics and works in the sphere of SEO since 2000. He always specialized in promotion of sites in the western segment of the Internet, repeatedly tried to work with the Runet…but since 2006 he invented and executed the development of SeoQuake – a popular SEO plugin for Firefox (more than 2 million downloads) and Chrome (more than 1.5 million downloads). Since 2008 until now Oleg is the fonder and the head of SEMRush.com – the set of SEO tools and PPC tools, competitors’ keyword research service.

Good afternoon Oleg. Kindly, specify why have you decided on the western market for promotion? If I am not mistaken that decision was taken when you were quite youthful – at the time of studying at Polytechnical University. What made you believe that direction was worth trying?

That was quite simple. I didn’t have to make a choice initially, and it happened that I started working on the Western market from the very beginning. Later I tried a shot to change the western segment for the .ru segment, but each time I felt like there were significantly fewer prospects. 

You are in search engine marketing for a pretty long period of time. Please, describe in what way has it changed since you got involved into it. Also, do you have any suggestions regarding what changes may occur in the nearest and distant future?

Well, I would start by telling there was no search engine marketing 12 years ago as such. There existed possibility to create a free hosted web page with necessary text density, to include keywords into title and keywords tags, etc., to add the page into AltaVista search engine with the help of submission form and the next day your web page could stand first in the SERP for the above mentioned search query. You could even get into the top search results for the «free porn» in this way. Everything has changed since then. I would hardly tell something new if to talk about prospects. The greatest changes in search engines will be about mobile search and search results personalization. And search engine marketing will get adjusted to those changes.

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Today SEMrush company is one of the most private. For many search engine marketing specialists it was surprisingly found you were from Saint Petersburg. Tell me please, was it a conscious choice or it just happened?

I wouldn’t say SEMrush is a “closed” company. We haven’t intended to act as a private organization. We have got a lot of friends among different online SEO tools services, bloggers, and speakers. But all our friends are from the western segment. Probably that is the reason why it may loot like we are closed for Russia and Ukraine. But in general, we communicate a lot with Russian-speaking audience, except we do not participate in lots of conferences.

You have recently made design changes to your website. What has hit you upon this idea? Has the conversion rate increased after that?

We have been planning to make redesign since long ago. We had several ideas regarding how the site may look like but due to different reasons, they didn’t work for us. And it is too early to talk about conversion. The changes to the site were rolled out in August, which was the holiday season. That is why certain time should pass before we can assess the statistics. But I would like to notice that we have already received a lot of thanks from grateful users. In general, we are satisfied with new design.

Can you, please, tell more about your team.

The core team is based in St. Petersburg: all developers, admins, a designer, and the QA team. As for the approach to the working process, since recently we have started practicing Agile valuables and Scrum.

What you work at presently? It is no secret that you constantly update and provide best SEO tools. What newly-designed tools may be expected in the nearest time?

Last September we launched the Facebook analytics and that was a quite significant update in the service we offer. We’ve been preparing for that for a long period of time and been working hard at it, but the daily data volume was too big. Although it is difficult to announce something, I think there will be made wide range of changes in the service in the nearest time, both significant and minor. Unfortunately it happens sometimes that certain ideas are not implemented and provided to our users. In most cases this happens because some tools turn out to be not as good and quality as we wanted them to be, or some services turn out to be quite interesting but way to hard to use and so are kept for internal use only. But I am sure our users will be pleasantly surprised in the nearest time by new top SEO tools.

Do you have any global plans concerning SEMrush products?

Certainly, there are some plans. Our main striving at this stage is further development of services not only for SEO specialists but also for people that are interested in promoting their websites using their own resources. We have strong desire to move away from the stereotype that SEMrush service is developed particularly for SEO specialists.

You have the office in the US. What are its functions? What is the distribution of functions between offices, if it is not a secret?

The American office is situated in Philadelphia. It is quite small and currently consists of just 5 people. The office situated in the US is responsible for marketing, technical support, organization of participation in various exhibitions and conferences. And the main office, as I already told, is situated in Saint Petersburg.

Tell more, please, about your product. How has that idea started up? Was it created and managed in cooperation with somebody or you created it on your own account and at your own risk?

As a matter of fact, the story of the appearance of all our products is approximately the same. Whether it was SEOQuake or SEMrush, or some of the less known projects – all of them have been initially developed for a company internal use. Later after those tools were demonstrated to friends and caused their keen interest we decided to improve the prototypes and provide them as fully-featured services.

What data do you base on when rolling out the updates and add-ons? What is critical for you and what is not?

I guess I will not tell something new. First of all, we put a value on our users’ advice and hold by what they tell us. From when SEMrush appeared on the market we have got almost 300.000 users joined the service. We receive lots of customers’ feedbacks and analyze these data to find out the efficiency and actuality of certain updates.

There are your competitors appearing on the market, for example, Ahrefs.  What is your assessment of their competitiveness?

We are glad to an appearance of such competitors as Ahrefs. When we started there were only two of them – spyfu and keywordspy. And so we were inspired and full of energy to overtake them. But competing with them is not really interesting any longer. So the competitor like Ahrefs is really motivating.  

Let me ask you a loaded question: what service must appear on the market to steal your company’s competitive advantage? Is it possible at all?

We are set exceptionally to active development of our service. That is why we do not even let in a possibility of such probability=)

SEOQuake is your first product. What is its future and are its users supposed to wait for any updates?

There hardly will be any significant SEOQuake add-ons for Chrome and Firefox. We had no any feedbacks from our customers regarding the necessity to improve or add something since long ago. Furthermore, in my opinion, the interest in SEO-plugins stalls. Most probably, this happens due to the fact that SEO analysts started paying less attention to various websites parameters.

You took the stage at SEMCamp-2012. What was your presentation about?

My presentation was about “stealing” competitors’ experience and business secrets. Many companies spend lots of money on marketing research while the research results are already available and may be accessed=)

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Interview with Oleg Shchegolev, CEO and Founder of SemRush and SEOQuake

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