Many of you, readers, may do not know that I am a Moz Associate, apart from being an independent Strategic SEO consultant and blogger for Stateofdigital.com.
However, as an Associate, I am not a Moz employee, therefore I do not know the details that led to the recent layoff of 60 Moz’s employees.
This post, then, will not be around Moz, but the state of the Search industry SAAS companies as perceived by a subscriber to many of the tools these companies sell.
The purpose of this post is not to criticise any company, but to open a debate, which I strongly ask you to participate in, while not attacking anyone or any of cited companies, being always respectful.
August is a strange month in the Search Industry
It seems as if everybody comes back from their holidays with a huge desire to revolutionise our existence.
For instance, Google rolled out Panda globally in August 2011… I still remember that day, because I and hundreds of SEOs in Spain and Italy were enjoying our holidays (which usually are in August and not in July, as in the USA).
This year the turmoil came from a company very dear to my heart: Moz.
A few days ago, Sarah Bird the CEO of Moz, publicly announced in a blog post that Moz is going to “doubling down on Search”.
The title of the post was trying to underline the positive side of the news: Moz is going back to SEO, which is was what it was always better at.
However, the bitter news was in the middle of the post, where Sarah declared that this decision caused the layoff of 60 employees.
This was a very sad decision, but, if we consider that Moz right now has tools like Moz Content and Followerwonk, which are not directly related to SEO, it was something sadly to expect. Those tools, have people working on them every day, from developers, product teams, support et al.
As someone, who himself suffered a company reorganisation back in the days when I was working at a television company in Italy (the movie channels I was directing were dismissed because they were substituted by the Sky ones), I know what that means: reconsidering budgets, cutting workforce because of the new situation and the new strategy of the company, people’s personal stories dramatically changing…
However, as happened to me and to many of ex-colleagues back in those days, I know that if you are strong enough, you can completely change your life – not only professionally – for the best. And I am sure that all the people, who were forced to leave Moz, will very soon find a new exciting job (check and share their profiles, here on hiremoz.com).
What I was not expecting was that this decision also included part of the Community team.
I say part and not entire, because people like Trevor Klein and Felicia Crawford (Blog area) or Rachel Goodman Moore (Moz Academy) and another 8 people in the Customer Success Help Team, (which is also moderating the Q&A), remain. In addition, people such as Rand himself and other in-house SEO Specialists who evangelise and engage with the Community as well as Associates like me (posts writer and Q&A), Ronnell Smith (who takes care of YouMoz), Christy Correll (moderator in Q&A), Everett Sizemore (Q&A) and many others (you can see the entire list here) will still be around.
However, I don’t want to enter into this topic, because my personal friendship with the members of the Moz Community team would make my words not that objective.
I will simply present two general considerations, that maybe can be developed into something more interesting that can be discussed in the comments.
What role to give to Community building?
First of all, we should ask ourselves what the role of a Community for a business company must be. Should it be something that ultimately leads to a conversion? Or should it be something that helps in building a brand?
Moz, since its very beginning (and also because it started as an SEO blog), always saw the Community as something not directly related to its own tools, but as a “universe” where SEO and marketers in general could virtually meet-up and engage about Search topics.
This “universe”, which at first comprised only the main blog and its comments, expanded with time into a more complex ecosystem:
- YouMoz, the real community generated blog;
- Moz Q&A, a mix between Quora and a forum;
- Mozcon, which should be considered also, if not mostly, a Moz community event;
- Moz Academy;
- Social Media profiles, which see a big part of its activity not only prepped to answer customer care issues, but also for engaging with the large Community of non subscribers to Moz;
- Evangelizing the Moz spirit of doing marketing through talks, and not only the ones by Rand Fishkin;
- The main blog, especially the comments’ area.
If we look at what all these Community building actions did for the Moz brand, we cannot say it was a failure, despite the inevitable defects they may have, and of which – as an Associate I can tell you – the people working on them were aware.
But let’s not talk about Moz, let’s talk about how that model inspired her companies.
Moz as an inspiration model
Moz was a pioneer in creating a strong community around its brand, but now we can see how many other SAAS are doing the same, albeit with some variation.
The first case that comes to mind is the one of SEMRush, which since a few years is investing a huge effort in time, people and quite surely money in creating a strong community of SEOs around it own brand thanks to its social media actions, its blog and presence as sponsors at industry events.
The biggest difference, and probably one of the mistakes made by Moz, is that SEMRush immediately decided to go international when building its community, so as to have as many marketing teams as there are main markets (USA, UK, Spain, Germany, France, Italy).
In doing so, SEMRush was able from the first minute to build a strong base of people in each market, who are devoted to its community events and, as a consequence, it is not so strange that its #SEMRushchat on Twitter is much more successful than any other Twitter chat about SEO.
Sure, SEMRush neither is perfect (for instance sometimes some of their blogs need a stronger editorial control, especially in countries like Italy or Spain), but right now it is a company that is almost ruling the same audience Moz is targeting, and now will try to conquer back again, something that it could have all the opportunities to do before, when it was the market leader.
Unfortunately, for reasons I do not know, Moz decided to expand its help team only very recently to London, when it was too late and, for sure, always postponed any idea of internationalizing itself in the real sense.
SEMRush, though, is not the only example of a company that was inspired by Moz in creating a strong brand based on community marketing.
Somehow in the space between a pure non-commercial community and one that bases its actions in also promoting its own tools, we can see the example of SISTRIX, which for a couple of years has started creating buzz with its case studies and basing big part of its strategy in creating strong relationships with SEO professionals, but not only in a brand evangelists way.
Other examples outside of the Search Marketing sphere can be found in Unbounce or Wistia… it’s not a case that these companies have decided to create their own conference.
Probably many of you are thinking that the decision of Moz of quitting the Community team is a symptom that Community building as a way of creating and reinforcing a Brand is not the way to go.
I sincerely disagree with that answer. In fact, a strong and positive perception of a brand is usually a way to finally create revenues: just imagine a community like the one at TripAdvisor, the soul of which is its forum, that clearly is essential to its Top of the Funnel.
On the contrary, basing a Community strategy only on supporting your own product, I personally would not define it as a Community strategy, but a Customer Care one, which is also important and can be a wonderful way of creating a Brand that last too, but it is not the same a real Community in my honest opinion.
Therefore, and please remember that this is only my very personal opinion, the problem is what can be defined as disillusion.
Problem: Community and Product unaligned
Your SAAS company can be wonderful in creating brand authority, and thanks to it to can see increases in subscribers, but then the tools you commercialize cannot stand the pass of time and start being surpassed in quality by others, then those subscribers will start feeling a misalignment between the coolness and greatness of the Community and the tools you sell.
This dissonance is what ultimately leads to unsubscribes, criticisms and, maybe worst, an army of people that may tell how great you are as a company, but won’t recommend others marketers to use your tools.
The problem, then, is in your product strategy, not your Community.
And this is what leads to my second consideration about Moz and the state of the industry: the future is for those SAAS that will be able to offer very specialized top notch products, and not for the ones trying to sell “Swiss army knives”, with which you can do everything, but not very well.
In this sense, the decision of Moz of to start “doubling down on Search”, and to return to its SEOmoz roots, seems to be going in the right direction.
Search Tools were the ones that made Moz something you need to subscribe to in order to work with easily.
However, the product strategy which started with Moz Analytics, the acquisition of Followerwonk and finally the launch of Moz Content, possibly dispersed energies that would have been better concentrated in constantly upping the level of the original tools (e.g.: Open Site Explorer).
Luckily for Moz, that original vision is already here with new tools like Keyword Explorer, Moz Local, or the very recent new SERP feature tracking in Moz Pro, this one being the case of a characteristic already present in other tools, but not with such precision and immediate utility.
Hopefully, Moz will focus on the path of these three tools, while overcoming the dramatically slow pace of updates to the tools themselves.
We can see this strategy based on marketing niche specialization (or even hyper-specialization) in many others SAAS:
- Onpage.org and DeepCrawl for crawling;
- Botify and Screaming Frog for crawling and logs analysis;
- SerpWoo, Accuranker or AWR for rank tracking;
- Majestic and Ahref for link analyisis.
and I am citing only few of many super-specialized tools available.
Raven itself recently presented the renewed Auditor tool as a declared intention of abandoning the suite way.
The market always decides in the end, and the market is clearly showing that it prefers to use many specialized tools than one tool for everything.
Suites are possibly useful only for the enterprise market as a way to have everything under a unique dashboard, but I would not be surprised if in future the next successful suite will be mostly be an interface, while all the data will be collected by APIs from others tools… and – let’s be honest – who isn’t the SEO that already has built something like that by hand with Excel?
In this sense, a tool like URL Profiler could be an example to follow and to have evolve.
Possibly, this is also the reason for the success of some “Inbound Marketing” suites, like Hubspot, which are absolutely far away from being great, but can solve the need for a unique dashboard.
On a discordant note we can find SEMRush, which once was a tool specialized in keyword research and competitor analysis, but that now offers also Social Media analysis tools, a link analysis tool and an auditor one, becoming somehow similar – if not in function, then in spirit – to what Moz Analytics aimed to be.
However, once again, we can find a big difference with respect to Moz: SEMRush decided to expand its tools offering when it already had a large subscriber base, so that every possible hiccup in the quality and evolution of the new tools could be possibly covered by that same customers’ base.
The news from Moz is indeed sad, not only for the 60 employees, who lost their jobs and whom I urge our so generous industry to help in hiring, but it is an especially important alert to all the SAAS out there: specialize yourself, be good in what your real audience is interested about and be fast in delivering new tools and updates to the old ones.
And do not make the mistake of believing that the Community you created is the problem.