An SEO vendor that dabbles in PR technology buys an audience and adds an influencer to their team
Buying a publication can be a faster path to developing an audience than building one organically. It doesn’t happen often, but we’ve seen software companies in the PR space run this play before.
Case in point?
In 2010, Vocus acquired the Help a Reporter. HARO, as it’s known colloquially, was an ad-support email newsletter that sent media opportunities from 30,000 reporters and bloggers to a subscriber list of 100,000 PR pros and small businesses.
Here’s another one:
In 2013, the trade publication Bulldog Reporter was about to shutter after 30 years of covering PR news. Innodata, the parent company of the soon-to-be-formed Agility PR Solutions swooped in and bought the publication in bankruptcy. Its long-time editor Richard Carufel, is still running the publication today.
Side note: I don’t think “Agility” existed as it does today until 2015. Agility was a media database owned by PR Newswire. That database was divested to Agility’s parent company Innodata (which also acquired Media Miser) as part of a DoJ ruling when Cision acquired PR Newswire (see history).
In any case, both of these were “audience buys” and proved to be savvy PR, content marketing and SEO moves.
First, B2B companies spend roughly $150 for every email they collect. Most of these come from registering for one-off gated content like white papers and webinars – these assets are expensive to create and promote. Both acquisitions netted tens of thousands of subscriber emails for a fraction of that cost.
Second, these weren’t just emails lists from downloaded content – but communities of engaged readers. Further, the transactions create buzz and coverage. There was even an SEO angle: in its heyday, HARO was a backlink magnet and from high-quality new sites.
It’s been nine years since any other vendor has acquired an audience, but we saw one this past month. It’s the “big story” in this month’s PR Tech Sum.
1. Semrush acquires the popular SEO website Backlinko
Semrush (NYSE: SEMR) acquired Backlinko – a popular website that provides educational posts about SEO. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. Since Semrush is a public company, the price tag would be deemed financially “immaterial” to the business operations.
Backlinko boasts 500,000 monthly visitors and about 174,000 email newsletter subscribers. The site has earned more than 550 backlinks in the last year, according to BuzzSumo, and more than 400,000 backlinks in its lifetime, according to Ubersuggest.
“Semrush is focusing on building up their marketing education,” wrote Backlinko founder Brian Dean in a LinkedIn post. “And I have a massive library of SEO and content marketing material.”
Most industry professionals recognize that PR and SEO work together. For example, the domain authority (DA) metric invented by Semrush rival Moz, has become the defacto standard for measuring the quality of third-party sites. Many PR tech vendors license that metric from Moz and integrated it into their media monitoring dashboards.
DA is essentially an educated guess for how well a site will rank in search. Backlinko’s domain authority is 68 which is very good. Other vendors have tried to mimic the success by creating similar metrics. AHREFs (see my product review) offers a “domain rating” while Semrush furnishes an “authority score.”
I’ve long wondered why one of the larger incumbent PR tech vendors didn’t snap up Moz or a similar SEO tool ten years ago. Semrush did the inverse: the SEO software company acquired the European PR software Prowly in 2020. That acquisition opened up the potential for a new technology competitor in PR – attacking from the flanks.
Semrush seems to be acquisitive and is well funded. It raised $140 million in cash from an IPO in 2021. In checking the share price in writing this post, the company is trading at around $18 per share or about 30% above its closing price on the day of its public debut. The Motley Fool recently called the stock an “overlooked” opportunity.
Importantly, it’s not just the audience Semrush is getting in the deal – they’re adding a credible industry influencer to their team. According to the announcement, Mr. Dean “and his colleagues will continue to grow the Semrush community by creating and curating original content for the Semrush Academy.”
When you look at what Semrush does, the audience Backlinko has created, and the buzz the transaction produced, you can see how the acquisition hits a trifecta across PR, SEO and content marketing.
Update: Here are some other interesting takes on the acquisition I think are worth a read:
- Ryan McCready wrote in a blog post for Foundation, “Semrush has almost doubled its traffic value by acquiring Backlinko. As well as boosted the number of keywords that it ranks on.”
- Writing for Search Engine Land, Editor George Nguyen captured reactions like this one, “’That’s what makes the acquisition itself the joke about our industry — A leading, listed tool company, buying a site, purely for the links gained by publishing nonsense,’ Peter Mindenhall tweeted, suggesting that one of the motivators behind the deal was the acquisition of Backlinko’s backlink profile. Mindenhall’s remark about ‘publishing nonsense’ refers to the mixed reception that some of the guidance in Backlinko’s content has garnered from the SEO community.” [Note: I don’t agree with this take but like to entertain contrarian viewpoints].
2. PR tech mentions
Here’s a roundup of other news and links from the world of PR technology.
- Brandwatch, which is owned by Cision, “rolled out a whole new sentiment model” that will improve accuracy by 18%. The model uses AI “transfer learning” which a company product manager likened to “next word auto suggestion” for sentiment analysis. “One of the key advantages of this new approach is that it makes it more robust when dealing with more complex or nuanced language. The new model can see past things like misspellings or slang,” said Nick Taylor, director of product marketing in a Q&A on the company’s website. Brandwatch is the technology underneath Cision’s social listening and Falcon.io products.
- Notified said it can now monitor brand mentions on TikTok. The company said in an email it “identifies the caption, including hashtags and tags, as well as the name of the music track and artist.
- Internal comms platform Firstup – formerly known as SocialChorus – named Nicole Alvino as CEO. She previously served as the company’s chief strategy officer.
- Onclusive named Manuel Moerbach as CEO in the wake of a PE-backed three-way merger with Kantar Reputation Intelligence and PRGloo. He joins the newly formed company from the data site Statista which grew to 1,200 employees from just five in 2009 while he was employed there.
- Cision announced it can create and deploy “customized” ESG websites for customers designed by the vendor. These websites “will allow organizations to showcase their ESG media coverage, annual sustainability reports and other ESG highlights.” Be sure to check out Cision’s own ESG page as you weigh this option.
- In a separate press release, Cison appealed to large PR firms by creating what the company is calling its Agency Relations Team or ART. It’s the proverbial “one throat to choke.” We’ll see how it lands since many big agencies operate as a collection of independent businesses based in separate cities.
- Bulldog Reporter, which is owned by Agility PR Solutions, has put out a call for applications to its annual Bulldog PR Awards which has a total of 61 categories (see FAQs and pricing).
3. Content picks from around PR tech land
- A survey of 1,00 journalists found 53% say they will cover more in-person events in 2022 compared to last year, according to Muck Rack.
- Meltwater rounds up PR statistics – they even cite a statistic from a major rival (yeah!) but removed the backlink (boo!). (It’s okay to cite the competition — even beneficial).
- “Never mind the Great Resignation” writes FirstUp, “Welcome to the Great Gigification.”
- OnePitch lists some of the major communications conferences for 2002.
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Image credit: Backlinko home page