Seth Besmertnik, co-founder and CEO of startup Conductor, admits that Web search isn’t that “sexy” anymore — hell, by slapping a +1 button on everything, Google itself seems more excited about social than search. But Besmertnik says he’s still building a big business focused on search engine optimization (SEO).
Specifically, Conductor is announcing that there are 1,000 global brands (including Ticketmaster and Gilt Groupe) who use Conductor’s Searchlight product to monitor and improve their ranking on Google, or whatever the dominant search engine is in a given country. That number is up 300 percent from the year before. Besmertnik also says that Searchlight booked $1 million worth of new customers in the fourth quarter of 2011, and it now has an annual run rate of $10 million in revenue. In fact, he says he’s hopeful about eventually taking Conductor public.
When pitching Searchlight’s potential, Besmertnik’s favorite statistic isn’t actually about customer count or revenue numbers. Instead, he points out that “natural” search (the results that advertisers don’t pay for) accounts for 92 percent of clicks, but only 11 percent of search spending. Naturally, Besmertnik wants to shift that ratio.
Searchlight collects data from more than 100 public sources to help companies understand where they sit in search results, where their competitors sit, and how they can move up. (Yes, Google+ is part of that data — Besmertnik says that as more social signals are incorporated into search, “they’re just more signals” for Searchlight to weigh.) Some companies that depend on SEO for all their traffic might spend their entire working day in the service, while others see it more of an alert system, so they know when their rank is falling. Besmertnik says the average customer pays Conductor $60,000 or $70,000 per year.
As for where the industry goes from here, Besmertnik predicts that it will continue in the direction of “universal search,” incorporating images, video, and other media. As that happens, it’s probably safe to assume that Searchlight will be expanding its support for those features. In addition, Besmertnik says his team will be revamping the product so that it “tells you a lot more about what you have to do, versus having to figure it out yourself.”