Heads up: This post is mostly meant for our early access customers, who joined in our pre-beta last August.
This past year was many things….
We built a ton of awesome stuff. We encountered a ton of challenges. We adapted, iterated, pivoted and did all the other “tech-buzzwordy” definitions of trying to make our product make sense to the market.
In general, we made things better.
Here’s a quick summary of what we built, what we learned, and what we’re doing next…
What We Built This Year
My last update to early access customers was January 27th, 2018.
So first, I need to apologize for being a man of few words this past year. It was not for lack of action (see below), but moreso because we’ve just been flat-out sprinting down the dev roadmap until basically, well… this week.
Anyway – here’s a quick look at what’s happened since Jan 27th…
6 NEW APPS
- AI-Powered Market Exploration
We completed building Compounding Interests, our flagship, AI-powered market research app in February. This was monumentally challenging, but the end result is awesome.
Basically this app shows you “the other 90%” of your market, zooming out from your keyword and using AI to go lateral, surfacing up thousands of topics, keywords, products, influencers, etc. across your market. From there you can further expand your search by “zooming out” another set of results, or select a certain topic and extract related keywords & competitive data from it.
A goldmine for (truly) new keyword targets, new content ideas and new audience discovery.
It’s for marketers who are well-versed with industry-standard tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs & SpyFu for drilling down… but who are looking for a way to explore new tangents, new niches and new starting points.
- Organic Intelligence Made Meaningful
We built Golden Prospects, an app that clearly shows you what’s actually consistently working for your competitors’ organic strategy – and not just what they’re doing. (Two very different things.)
It makes it easy to quickly isolate the “pay dirt”, revealing an itemized breakdown of where their traffic actually comes from – by keyword and by page. You can also add your own site and run gap analysis vs each competitor.
Even for ourselves, the app has been incredibly useful for unearthing home-run topics (for competitors) that we’ve totally overlooked to-date.
- The Most Underrated, Overlooked Traffic Source (Now On Autopilot)
We built First Responders, an app that automates frictionless content promotion (and instant, highly-engaged traffic) by scanning virtually every known forum & community for recent threads about your target keywords.
And by “recent” I mean, 30 seconds ago recent. The idea is to find recent questions / problems that your content specifically addresses.
Then hop in as a “first responder”, provide a valuable and complete reply, and then link to your own content for more info. This will generate a surge of immediate traffic, establish goodwill, and in some cases drive a steady drip of highly-targeted leads for several months (or years) to follow, since these conversations – on established forums – are usually prioritized in the SERPs.
This is the perfect addition to your content distribution strategy – and one that actually taps a fresh audience.
- Overnight SEO Results… Really.
We built SEO Prospector, an app that connects straight to Google Search Console, in addition to pulling content metadata from your own site (for reference), and pinpoints immediate & near-immediate traffic opportunities.
Namely, it calculates the avg CTR across your site, and highlights all the 1st-page-ranked content in descending order of actual impressions – so you can clearly see what pages should be getting a ton of traffic, but where searchers simply aren’t clicking through. A simple adjustment to your title / meta description can literally multiply your organic traffic, overnight.
Similarly, the app finds all your most promising page-2 rankings (position 11-20), together with the actual impressions data – showing you where you’re almost ranked, and what keywords deserve the most attention.
These are the easiest “SEO Levers” to pull, and they’re also the fastest-acting. (Anyone with SEO clients, in particular, will love this).
- Discover Your Internal, Unsung Hero
We built First Impressions, an app that crunches through your Google Analytics, quickly isolating the content that’s best at converting new users into customers. (Specifically, conversion rate & engagement… not just # of conversions)
The results are almost always surprising, and it shines a light on what core topics attract your best customer persona. Obviously, expanding your content strategy around these topics will accelerate growth at no additional cost.
- The Bottom Line… From 30,000 Feet
We built The Big Picture, an app that distills all of your marketing & attribution data into a single, clarifying report – showing which channels actually drive ROI, how customers discover you, which channels assist after initial discovery, and which channels are critical at the last stage – right before the conversion. We also pull out sales cycle duration, per channel, which is a massive eye-opener.
This is the ultimate executive overview, especially for SEO & CM, since it highlights the true impact of organic channels throughout the customer journey – not just the first & last clicks.
(For example: Most FB marketers will be shocked to see how critical their organic search presence really is).
FEATURES & IMPROVEMENTS
- Content Discovery is substantially more useful & intuitive
Until recently, getting “great” results out of our content discovery apps like Topical Thunder, In-Market Intercept and so on required a fairly “railroaded” approach.
You previously had to use those apps in a very specific way to find truly meaningful insights.
We’ve overhauled this completely, and given you a lot more control, including:
- Ability to require exact-match & in-title, or both
- Ability to exclude domains (huge QOL improvement!)
- With some apps, ability to only scan certain domains (eg. reddit)
- Ability to filter out by things like Min Shares, Min Replies, Max Age, etc.
You’ll find most of this in the expandable “Advanced Settings” menu on the setup page for each app.
- Connecting to Google services is no longer a cumbersome, confusing pain in the ass.
For our GA & Console powered apps like First Impressions, it no longer takes 24 unnecessary clicks (or whatever it was) to connect your analytics, choose a conversion goal, and run the report / schedule.
It’s now 3 clicks. Yay!
(You still need to disable your popup blocker though. No workaround for that one unfortunately).
- Zag is now actually usable on screens smaller than 40 feet wide
We’ve finally made the UI responsive so it’s at least functional / usable on a small Macbook Air (& equivalent notebook) screen size.
It won’t win any design awards on small screens, but for my fellow coffee-shop warriors, you also won’t be endlessly side-scrolling either.
- SEM Bypass & Search Traffic Siphon are now a single, unified app…
Now called Search Traffic Bypass. And it’s a helluva lot more useful and powerful, too.
For example, you can now…
- Filter results by specific technologies (ad tech, comment tech)
- Filter by specific domain (ie. find all instances of quora.com across all keywords, etc)
- Specify min # of footprints to qualify as a result
- And of course, concurrently search for Ad tech and Comment tech in the same app.
Note: We realize this app is more of a fun traffic prospector, and I’ve honestly debated just pulling it from the lineup… but it is a really powerful strategy in high-cost markets. So for now it’s staying, and at least it’s way more usable.
And that’s just the iceberg’s tip. There are myriad other improvements, tweaks and optimizations we made over the year as well, but detailing them all would put both of us to sleep.
Rest assured, we’ve been busy.
What We Learned This Year
Oh man, where to start…
Way too much to list, for starters. So I’ll just keep it to the highlights:
- Building a PAYG “Marketplace”… is a very bad idea.
The original concept for Zag was a modular, unlock-as-required “store” for marketing intelligence.
Where you could just pick & choose exactly which apps made the most sense to activate for a given project, and only pay for those apps, for as long as you needed them.
There are probably more reasons why this model sucks than there are stars in the universe, but the standouts include:
- Onboarding is a nightmare, since all strategic & setup work is “outsourced” to the customer.
- Every single action in the platform becomes a purchase decision. (This is an amazing way to tank your LTV)
- By necessity, individually-pricing apps makes them look piecemeal, generic and cheap.
- Building the payment infrastructure to accommodate this was… insane.
I could go on. Never do this.
- We had to pick a niche.
One of the many symptoms of the PAYG hangover was the fact that, at the beginning of 2018, Zag’s product line wasn’t extensive enough to be useful as an all-around “growth hacking” platform (across every marketing channel).
And building these apps is hard, time-intensive and costly – which meant that “building a whole bunch more of them” wasn’t realistic. Nor would that have been effective, in retrospect.
The marketplace model only works if you’re middleware, like Zapier.
That’s why in February, I decided to double-down on content strategy as our specialist vertical, for a number of reasons.
Chiefly: I’ve over a decade of being in the trenches with CM & SEO, both directly and as a vendor. It’s familiar ground.
But also, I view content marketing as becoming increasingly critical for marketers in general – since it goes hand in hand with cultivating an owned audience… which is worth its weight in gold. Especially as we see the overall cost of acquisition continues to increase across every paid channel, with no end in sight.
- Sometimes, “aiming high” is actually a lot easier.
I now completely empathize with SaaS companies like Optimizely, that totally withdraw from the self-serve market and exclusively work with Fortune 500’s.
I remember signing up for $19/mo or something hilarious, years ago. It’s now ~ $36K a year, from what I can gather. Ironically, their churn rate has probably dropped down to a trickle, and they now deal with companies who have the marketing scale to truly leverage their toolset.
Similarly with Zag, we literally had zero indications of traction from our initial test traffic as a “PAYG Platform”, where some apps were priced as low as $12/mo.
But moving it to a more conventional trial (currently priced at $99/mo for beta access) proved effective, and the trials starting rolling in shortly thereafter.
Our model is far from polished, though.
Speaking of which…
This past year was basically a never-ending build cycle. We’re exhausted, and it’s time to actually put the “OPEN” sign on the door.
So aside from a few remaining polish-up tasks, 2019 is all about going to market – with all the usual “launch stuff” lined up that you might expect. Obviously, that’s a lot more exciting than dev grind, and we certainly have high hopes & fingers crossed.
But more than anything, the focus for 2019 is all about determining who Zag is actually ideal for, as a solution. (As in, what type of customer is the best fit).
In an ideal world, we’ll nail the sweet-spot and find sophisticated, self-serve users in enough volume to make it work… and without having to “dumb it down”, which I basically refuse to do.
To break the 4th wall though, for a second – and being totally transparent – I have a feeling Zag will need to travel upmarket (at least somewhat), in order to be most useful.
Perhaps not to the extent that Optimizely has done. But likely somewhere along that trajectory.
We shall find out together 🙂
Note: For early-access users and beta customers, please rest assured that regardless of Zag’s ultimate re-positioning, your access to the platform will remain “locked in”. We’re not going to pull the rug. Any pivots/re-positioning will only impact new customers.
Oh, One Last Thing…
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
I trust you didn’t blow your diet as badly as I did this year.