SaaS Podcast: How A Founder Successfully Pivoted His SaaS Business — with Geoff Atkinson [219]

Table of Contents

Podcast Description

Guest: Geoff Atkinson
Summary

In this podcast interview you will learn Geoff’s story and how he went through 3.5 years of lean times for his business, how he pivoted into a SaaS business, what he learned about sales and the importance of structured data and how it can help you with SEO.

Click here to listen to the full episode.

“[Huckabuy’s pitch] was a totally different pitch than any other SEO pitch. It really resonated with people. They were like, ‘I’ve never even heard SEO talked about this way and it’s really refreshing.’”

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How SaaS companies specifically can benefit from Huckabuy software products — such as structured data markup software.
  • SaaS companies don’t fully take advantage of the opportunities that SEO and organic search traffic can provide.
  • Geoff tells his entrepreneurial story and his mistakes and lessons learned throughout his career. 

Time Stamped Highlights

3:43  SEO Tip: Problems that Huckabuy software products solve 

“Websites are built for human beings, but I argue that on any given day the most important visitor is actually the Google Bot.”

Omer: So, Huckabuy is the name of the company but right now you sell two different product packages. So can you tell us what the products do, who are your target customers, and what problems are you helping to solve?

Geoff: Yeah, absolutely. So our products essentially help translate a website for Google. So I always say, you know, websites are built for human beings. But I argue that in any given day, the most important visitor is actually this little Googlebot, because they kind of end up dictating how much traffic you get. And we take a site and essentially translate it using structured data and SEO Cloud, so that Google has this wonderful user experience as a bot. 

5:05 SEO Tip: Geoff explains structured data

“Structured data is essentially a language that is a search engine’s sort of preferred way to communicate with a website.”

Omer: Now, most people when they think of SEO will think of the traditional stuff like, “Are all my pages optimized for being crawled?” and “Do I have high quality backlinks to my site?” and all the other stuff that SEOs focus on to get ranked on the first page of Google, as one of those first ten blue links, for whatever keywords they want to optimize for. But with structured data, there’s more to it than just that. So for people who aren’t familiar with the concept, can you explain, like what structured data means in the world of SEO?

Geoff: Yeah, absolutely. So structured data is essentially a language that is a search engine’s sort of preferred way to communicate with a website. It’s called structured data markup and you can have markup for almost anything. So, a human being, a location, an event, a product, you know, on and on almost anything can be represented through structured data. Also, it’s authoritative. As opposed to metadata — stuff like title tags and meta descriptions — which is really suggestive. So if you say the sports score is 3-0, and it’s the bottom of the seventh, it has to be 3-0, bottom of the seventh. And if they find that you’re not giving them accurate information, you actually get dinged, so it needs to be very accurate. And then you’ll see Google use it in lots of interesting ways. So anytime that you see a sort of a unique feature in search results that aren’t, as you said, just a blue link — if you search for a recipe and the recipe just shows up or you see star ratings on products, or you search for a movie time and the movie times just show up and you can book right there. Those are called rich cards and that’s all powered by structured data. Search engines are leveraging it more and more. So it’s very important from an SEO perspective to have world class structured data. And they keep incorporating it into their search results. And also, they use it for voice search. So voice searches, essentially, if you search for something using a voice search, it’s essentially reading to you the rich cards that are available on the page. And so as voice search becomes more prevalent in every industry, structured data is a way to capture those interactions. 

8:57 Geoff’s success and experience as SVP of Marketing at Overstock.com

“There’s a lot of agencies and consultants that are telling you what to do [in SEO] but a lot of these folks don’t have the track record driving results through the roof.” 

Omer: Tell me about how you came up with the idea for this business. What were you doing before you started this company?

Geoff: Yeah. So, I was the SVP of marketing at Overstock. And we had a great SEO story. We took it from a very little channel to a very big channel — hundreds of millions. And, you know, while I really got into SEO, that wasn’t the only thing we did there  I was just sort of fascinated by it. And it ended up transforming the business which helped us become profitable. And it’s just such an interesting and special channel versus your typical paid media channels. You know, it drives the best new customers, it always has the highest ROI — I could go on and on about why it’s so important. But yeah, I just really got into it, and especially around the technical conversation between a website and a search engine. That turned out to be particularly important. I think it was really cool just to be on the front lines of SEO for so long. And really recognizing what moved the needle and what didn’t. I think the industry of SEO is sort of broken, where there’s a lot of agencies and there’s a lot of consultants that are sort of telling you what to do. But a lot of these folks don’t have a track record of driving results through the roof. And so I just saw something kind of missing in the market where people were being sold a lot of snake oil, and not getting what they wanted from the industry. And so we’re here to try to fix that. 

13:17 How Huckabuy got to $100k in MRR in 1.5 years

“We were product-focused. The products ended up moving the needle significantly for these companies. And once you have a bit of a track record in SEO, people are willing to give you a shot.” 

Omer: So, really the growth to getting to over 100k in MRR has happened in just over the last year and a half. So what have you done? What’s driven that growth so quickly?

Geoff: We haven’t done anything special in terms of marketing or sales, I don’t think. We were very product driven. We had a product that was exciting to a lot of people, because it was really unique. And it made sense. It was like, okay, this software is going to move the needle, it has a track record of moving the needle. And so it just really resonated with some smart internet marketing folks and smart SEO folks, a lot of which I already knew. And so I reached out to my network really, and said, hey, we’ve built something kind of cool and it’s working — and I’d love for you to try it. And so, that’s really how we got started — within my network, my network’s network and people that worked at Huckabuy. We would take any business that we could get our hands on, and we have a relatively high conversion rate. People were interested and we were very product driven and network driven at first and then we got some lucky breaks. For example, we were introduced to SAP when we were quite small. And we learned that this thing really works for SaaS companies — I can kind of get into why it does a little bit later. And that was a big deal for us to get SAP as a customer and then we got Salesforce. And as we started getting some really big logos early on, I think that really verified the product and made people feel comfortable that we had these enterprise contracts. And yeah, so it really has happened, you know, more organically than it probably should have, looking back on it. I wish we had pushed harder on the sort of sales and marketing side earlier. But I think being product focused, we did build a great product. And that ended up moving the needle significantly for these companies. And once you have a bit of a track record in SEO, people are willing to give you a shot. 

17:57 SEO Tip: The value of outsourcing technical SEO

“We’ve had plenty of companies turn us down and come back to us 6-12 months later, and say, “We just can’t — we’re not getting this done, we’re not seeing the results that we want SEO-wise and we’re interested in what you have to offer.” 

Omer: Okay, so now the story is getting more intriguing because it’s like, you’re going out, you’re getting in front of prospects and you’re selling them product that they can’t see, or touch, or use — but it will help them if they take that leap of faith. But you’ve also got this challenge: how do you present it in a way, and how do you pitch it in a way, so that people can understand the value and are willing to pay? Were there some people who said, “Well, yeah, that sounds great. Thanks. And we can probably create some of that ourselves”?

Geoff: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, as we get more mature, I think it’s getting easier to convince people that this is real and something’s visible. And now we have this track record of results. But, you know, most SEO — successful SEO teams — almost do everything internally. That’s how we did it at Overstock — really good SEO teams do almost everything internally. Especially with SEO cloud, we have to explain a lot. We, you know, we sell as much into technology as we do into marketing — there’s a lot of that attitude. What we have to do to overcome that, is prove that we know what we’re doing and that this is a complicated thing to accomplish in-house. And you’re better off outsourcing it to us — which hasn’t always been easy. You know, we have had plenty of companies turn us down saying they’re going to do it internally. We’ve also had plenty of companies turn us down and come back to us 6-12 months later, and say, “We just can’t — we’re not getting this done, we’re not seeing the results that we want SEO-wise and we’re interested.” And that’s really reassuring to feel that, but yeah, it hasn’t been easy. I’d say that we’re getting a lot better at making the product much more tangible so that people know what they’re getting. They know what the results are to be expected and they can rest assured knowing that they’ve got this terrific SEO software platform that’s gonna make a big difference for them. 

21:30 SEO Tip: The reason Huckabuy software is optimal for SaaS companies

“Structured data ends up being this fabulous mechanism to educate a search engine on a SaaS product.”

Omer: When people can’t see a product, I guess that potentially leads to some confusion about whether you’re selling a product or service. So, if you’re working with a SaaS company, what’s involved and what are the main steps that you need to go through, or that they need to go through, to get them on-boarded and start seeing results?

Geoff: I’ll say we do have situations between some customers and the SEO analysts on our team that help our customers when software goes live. And at the beginning of this process, at some point, the customer starts thinking of us as a service, because the only interaction that they’re having is with this SEO analyst that’s giving them advice, and they forget that the software — our product— has been up and live. So we’ve done a lot to prove to companies that you know, the software is live, and it’s what’s really driving your results, and here’s what it’s doing.

The reason that it works so well for SaaS is if you think about it, an Overstock.com or an e-commerce site — that’s a site that’s relatively easy for a search engine to understand. Bots come onto the site and because there’s these really well described categories like men’s watches or patio furniture, and those categories are all the same format it’s easy for a bot to understand. And then they get to a product page, and those are all the same formats — they’ve got a kind of product name and price and a description and reviews. In fact, your Amazon.com or Overstock.com is going have a huge API that points back to Google with all their product information in a live feed. So Google bots understand e-commerce sites really clearly, but when you think of SaaS sites, all that structure just goes away because these companies have much more complicated products. There are integrations and all sorts of things happening on a SaaS site that just doesn’t happen on an e-commerce site. And so when Google wants to know everything they can about Salesforce, they know there’s tons of backlinks and very high domain authority, but they’re left sort of scratching their head as to what exactly it is.  

And so structured data ends up being this fabulous mechanism to educate a search engine on a SaaS product. And implementation is really relatively easy, you know, we send them a line of JavaScript to get our code live. We then insert this little packet — it’s called a JSON LD packet — that contains all the structured data. We put it up as high as we can on the page and Google comes in and recognizes structured data and just understands each and every page throughout the site way more clearly than they did before. And the more they understand, the more search results they end up giving the site. So that’s why it works so well in SaaS — it’s a light implementation and the search engines are struggling to understand these businesses. If the CEO pitches the product to a potential buyer, the buyer is going to learn so much more about that product than what Google understands by going and crawling a SaaS site. And so our software really helps that communication.

30:25 Marketing Advice: How Huckabuy was finding new customers in 2019

We still do a pretty significant amount of outbound email. And we’re pretty clever about it.”

Omer: Beyond working your network, how are you finding new customers today?

Geoff: We still do a pretty significant amount of outbound email. We’re pretty clever about it. For example, I was a Dartmouth College alum, and it’s a fiercely loyal alumni network for some reason, like unreasonably loyal. And so we email Dartmouth alums that are executives and such at various companies, and they almost always take a conversation — which is really nice and sometimes it leads to something and sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s sort of a clever marketing move.

The other one is, there’s a lot of SaaS companies in Utah. We’re in Park City, but a lot of SaaS companies are in Lehi, in Orem and Provo. And so we’ll set appointments and take people to lunch and we’ll drive down there and spend the day in Lehi and just go sort of door to door. There’s literally so many companies and they’re all in the same office park, you know, you can go to five SaaS companies in a day in Lehi and not leave the office park. So that’s where a lot of our customers are coming from.

34:45 Huckabuy prices and customer results

“Our average customer grows 62% in terms of organic search traffic.”

Omer: How do you price the product? And can you maybe give me an example of the type of results a customer has seen by implementing these products?

Geoff: Yeah. So typically, it’s about $2,000-$4,000 per month — depending on how big your website is, and what products you’re going with. I think we have some smaller customers that are down in sort of the $1,500 area, but typically it’s $2,000-$4,000 per month, annual contracts. We do a discount for prepays. 

As for the results of our average customer — if you take all of our customers and you look at their growth rates after 12 months of having the software installed — our average customer grows 62% in terms of organic search traffic. And we’re really proud of that. I mean, that moves the needle. And we work with some big, established companies — it’s not like we’re taking a startup from zero to 500 visitors a month. These are often relatively big numbers. We work with companies of all sizes. But yeah, your average customer will grow 62% in terms of organic search traffic in 12 months. And these are mostly companies who already have at least one person dedicated to SEO, if not a team of people.

Helpful Content Mentioned In Show

Geoff’s Book Recommendation

Geoff’s Favorite Productivity Tool

Q&A From The Episode

Our products translate a website using structured data and SEO Cloud, so that search engines have the perfect crawling experience.

Structured data is relied upon by search engines to understand, contextualize, and index content as accurately and efficiently as possible.

Typically, it’s about $2,000-$4,000 per month — depending on how big your website is, and what products you’re going with that sort of the range. We have some smaller customers that are down in the $1,500 area, but typically it’s $2,000-$4,000 per month, with annual contracts. We do a discount for prepays. 

After 12 months of having the software installed our average customer grows 62% in terms of organic search traffic.