Q&A with SEMrush CEO / Cofounder, Oleg Shchegolev

interview with SEMrush CEO

Oleg Shchgolev, CEO and Co-founder of SEMrush, also created SEOquake that was released in 2006. SEOquake was the inspiration to creating something more complex. Then SEMrush was born with the help of his partner, Dimitri Melnikov.

Today, SEMrush has 10 years in the market with 500 employees, revenues close to 100 million, and about 2 million users worldwide.

I had the pleasure to interview Oleg, including some questions beyond Search.

KT: What type of inspiration, vision, and loyalty did you see in Dmitri Melnikov that made you want to go in business with him?

OS: First and foremost, Dima is my friend. Second, he is a SEMrush co-founder; he’s been here right from the very beginning. We have always believed in the product that we’ve been working on and I totally admire him as my friend, my colleague, and co-founder.

We make most decisions together as CEO & co-CEO. Our temperaments are mutually reinforcing and this contributes greatly in allowing us to make balanced and informed decisions.

KT: How is your relationship with your partner Dmitri Melnikov?

OS: I’ve known Dmitri for more than 30 years. We grew up in the same neighborhood; we started programming together and over time our friendship expanded into a business partnership. We’ve gone through lots of ups and downs together.

KT: To be successful in the tech industry do you consider a person has to go to college or can they be self-taught?

OS: Formal education greatly enhances discipline and concentration, helps you socialize and find the right and important people — to network, if you like.

But a lot of leaders I know are self-taught. Back when I was a student, people had pretty much no idea what SEO was, or how important (and complicated) it would become over the years. Students should be aware that their knowledge gets outdated fast. They need to be prepared to dedicate a lot of time to continuing self-education.

The IT industry is developing extremely quickly. That’s not to say that college education is not needed at all (it definitely doesn’t hurt to learn some basic stuff in college), but other than that…like I said, I don’t deem formal training to be absolutely essential. With all the online courses and workshops, it’s possible to study everything remotely.

KT: Does SEMrush have corporate social responsibility initiatives? Such as giving scholarships for people that dream with tech careers? Or any other?

OS: At the moment, we work closely with American and European universities and give students the opportunity to explore SEMrush. While learning digital marketing, they familiarize themselves with our tools and work on their projects with the help of SEMrush. Representatives of our company give a lot of master-classes to students, providing them with the insights about digital marketing.

We organize a lot of meetups, roundtables and conferences on digital marketing and agile. We always welcome other IT companies to take part in such events. Lots of lectures, a great deal of useful insight, plenty of opportunities for networking — these are just a few reasons to come by our events.

On a different note, we certainly care about ecological sustainability. We are going to implement waste separation in all our offices and  we encourage our employees to cycle to work to reduce CO2 emission.

It goes without saying that we give people the opportunity to work with us on paid internships. Pretty often, former interns become our full-time employees. We have plans for a large project on how to help novice specialists find work in the digital sphere, but we won’t reveal the details yet

KT: Where is SEMrush headed in the next 5 years?

OS: We are definitely going to add more features to SEMrush, while enhancing our content tools, along with local SEO and traffic analytics (Competitive Intelligence 2.0). We want to ensure that we remain the leading digital marketing software.

As for strategic plans, we are going to strengthen our global brand. At the moment we’re working diligently to enter emerging markets such as China — right now, we are updating our databases to cover Baidu data.

We’ll also introduce tools that help figure out how to rank better on Amazon and optimize for voice search.

This is just a minor part of what is coming. There are a lot of other things we are working on, but we’ll keep them quiet for a while! Hint: 2019 is going to be a big year for us.

KT: What are your biggest pain points as SEO thought-leader? What additional support/buy-in do you think most companies struggle with to get on board? Does this result in limiting their growth opportunities?

OS: SEO is multidimensional and its development is extremely rapid. 5 years ago we couldn’t even imagine that image search or voice search would be everywhere. Such technological growth involves non-stop education and creative thinking, both from my side as a thought-leader and from the side of companies trying to get on board.

One more indispensable thing to get on board successfully is to have some unique feature, to understand your uniqueness and, crucially, to communicate that knowledge to your audience. Such an environment of extrinsic value, created for your customers, will also help build strong and long-term relationships with them and will directly affect customer retention.

KT: What will impact the traditional SEO from Voice search devices in the coming years?

OS: The share of voice searches is growing, along with the amount of voice-activated smart speakers. Naturally, voice searches are different from the searches that are typed — the former are longer and the wording is different — more conversational.

Voice search is about questions, prepositions, and comparisons – the same as with featured snippets . If it’s not an informational query, people are likely to search for location-based info.

Backlinko’s study claims that 40.7% of answers come from the featured snippet. Our SEO clients are putting more and more emphasis on this feature. Questions, prepositions, and comparisons dominate featured snippet results. A whopping 52% of questions have featured snippets.

KT: Can we get a dashboard or report on voice search?

OS: There’s no single dashboard or report on voice search in SEMrush (at least for now) but some of our tools help find solutions for voice search optimization. For instance, featured snippet checks or mobile devices optimization — this contributes to voice search ranking.

KT: What’s the most popular SEMrush feature and why?

OS: Everyone loves us for Keywords Research tools, but there is so much more to SEMrush.

KT: What’s a feature of SEMrush that is less utilized and why?

OS: The features that are available in the Admin Mode only =)

KT: What is diversity like in the tech industry? Do you think there is gender bias in the tech industry?

OS: Judging by what the media says, there are indeed a lot of problems with diversity in the tech industry.  In SEMrush we want our company to be equally welcoming to people of any race or gender. About half of SEMrush leadership positions are women and we believe they are awesome specialists who help make SEMrush an industry-leading company.

Closing thoughts

My favorite answer is the last one because I am an advocate for equality and inclusivity.

In my conversation with Oleg I also learned that SEMrush’s headquarters is now in Boston.

To summarize the success of SEMrush, it is based on a great communication within its talented partners, a great culture of inclusivity, and the amazing people that work there.

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