Thursday, January 01, 2015

Tracking Growth In A Start-Up - BuzzSumo Reflections

Today is the start of a new year and I have been looking back at the progress we have made at BuzzSumo over the last 12 months.

In March 2014 we established BuzzSumo as a limited company. This marked the move from a great hobby project that James and Henley had started some months earlier, to a proper start-up with an outline business plan. During the year we built BuzzSumo Pro, which we launched as a paid product in September 2014. As a serial start-up entrepreneur I am always interested to track progress and growth. In the case of BuzzSumo I think we have made very positive progress in growing the brand, the traffic to the site, the number of people signing up to use the freemium version and in signing up our first paying customers.

Paying Customers

The core metric for any business looking to grow is revenue, although in the early years of many SaaS businesses growing the brand and awareness can be equally important.

We have a freemium base product and by the end of year we had well over 50,000 registered freemium users. In terms of paying customers we had acquired over 300 from mid-September until the end of the year including some big brand names.

Our Baremetrics data shows we finished the year with 315 customers, adding 27% more customers in December. This was above the target we set for paying customers but maybe we were too cautious.

Web Traffic

Our web traffic grew reasonably steadily over the year. The chart below shows the volume of sessions until December 20th, 2014.


Links remain important in amplifying content and generating a higher Google page rank. Our own BuzzSumo tool tracks links acquired from new articles published each month. From this analysis we can see that we have steadily grown the number of new links to the Buzzsumo site.

This data looks good but you really need a benchmark for comparison. The chart below shows how the number of new links we have acquired each month compares to those acquired by the Content Marketing Institute. 

It should be noted that the CMI site has a great many more links than BuzzSumo but it is encouraging that the number of new links to our site has grown to a similar level. 

Alexa Ranking

Our Alexa ranking, which ranks relative traffic, rose strongly early in the year. Our ranking moved into the top ten thousand sites and up to 5,000 in September. In September we launched our paid BuzzSumo Pro plan and restricted the freemium version for the first time to the first page of results. We had suspected that these changes would reduce the volume of free sign-ups, the traffic to the site and the number of links to the site. However, whilst our Alexa ranking fell our traffic and links rose as can be seen above.

The Alexa ranking fall may have more to do with the relative performance of other sites and new sites. I compared our ranking to that of CMI below and as can be seen the relative ranking for both of our sites fell over the same period, though ours slightly more. Our ranking has stabilised in the last month and we will see how we fare in January.

Looking Forward To 2015

We are adding many exciting new features to BuzzSumo, including the new language and location filters which go live in January. We are also looking to make our first investments in marketing, so far we have resisted spending a dollar on marketing or ads, though we have obviously spent time networking, writing posts and doing webinars. We are also considering employing our first sales and marketing person though we have continued to follow the example of Moz so far in not having any sales staff. 

We have been approached by investors and some have talked of the importance of taking this opportunity to invest and grow market share at this time. We will reflect on these issues though at this time we are not proposing to raise money or to make any significant investments in sales and marketing. The business is already profitable well within the first 12 months

I will explore in a later post the issues around growth, investment and the sales and marketing options. What I can say is that the real core of any successful marketing is a product that people love. The team have done a fantastic job of listening to user feedback and building a product which people love so much they recommend it to their friends and colleagues. That has been the true driver of our growth.

I have also found there are issues as a product gets more complex. Many people simply don't explore the product enough during a free trial to understand the value it can deliver. I have personally found that if you can get someone on a webinar for just 20 minutes you can demonstrate the value and increase the potential to convert them into a paying customer.

I am very optimistic that our new product developments, and the investments we will potentially make in marketing this year, should help us to accelerate the growth of the business significantly. 

If you are interested in a demo of BuzzSumo just contact me or join us on one of our weekly webinars.