Ginzametrics Helps Huge Sites Get More Search & Social Attention

10/10/12Follow @wroush

Ray Grieselhuber, the founder of search optimization startup Ginzametrics, deserves a prize for patience. My first meeting with him was more than two years ago, on September 27, 2010 (I remember that it was a windy but bright afternoon outside Caffe La Stazione in the Dogpatch). I said I’d likely write a story based on our interview, but then a lot of other things got in the way.

So I asked Ray to stop by for another talk on November 3, 2011—but then immediately got sidetracked with a hundred other pressing tasks. Embarrassed, but still convinced that Ginzametrics is a cool company, I talked to him for a third time last month, then left on vacation before I could write my story.

Well, I don’t know if Ray will feel it was worth the wait, but I’m back on duty this week, and today I’m finally going to tell you all about Ginzametrics. The company has been thriving, so there’s actually a lot more to say than there was back in the fall of 2010, when Grieselhuber had just finished a term inside Y Combinator.

“The first year was about launching and making sure the whole thing didn’t fall over,” Grieselhuber says of Ginzametrics’ service, which is designed to help big companies manage the content of their websites to achieve better rankings on Google, Bing, and other search engines. “In the last year, we’ve been scaling out to a lot more customers, and hiring people to help us continue to expand.”

At just eight full-time workers, and with a modest $1.7 million in venture capital under its belt, Mountain View, CA-based Ginzametrics is still a lot smaller than its main competitor in the search engine optimization (SEO) market: San Mateo, CA-based BrightEdge, which employs more than 200 people. (I profiled BrightEdge back in June 2010). Grieselhuber says Ginzametrics’ main advantage over its bigger rival is that its system is optimized for managing very large websites: Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten is a customer, for example.

“It is very much a David and Goliath thing,” he says. BrightEdge has raised $20 million, “and they’re growing like crazy. Hats off to them—they’ve really helped to educate potential customers on how this technology can benefit them, so they’ve saved us a lot of work. We are trying to do things a little bit differently. We are definitely the upstart—our goal is to be the next-generation technology.”

The “Ginza” in the company’s name is a reference to Grieselhuber’s connections to Tokyo, where he worked for three years as the head of a boutique interactive agency specializing in Web analytics. (He also speaks the language fluently.) “I’ve always been doing more sophisticated stuff than what I see on the market, but now I’m seeing the mainstream vendors start to catch on to these ideas,” Grieselhuber told me at our first meeting. “I saw the opportunity to package these [SEO] ideas into something that works for a wider, enterprise-class audience”—but in the form of a Web-based service that doesn’t cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and weeks of IT time to spin up.

The big problem Ginzametrics wants to help with is increasing a company’s visibility on the Internet. If you sell picture-hanging widgets and your site doesn’t rank in the top Google results under “picture hanging,” it’s the modern-day equivalent of not having a listing in the phone book or the Yellow Pages. “If you are ranked highly in Google, it’s one of the strongest signals of trust and quality,” Grieselhuber says. “But it’s much more than just Google. Yelp and the App Store are increasingly important. If you are a marketer and you see an ordered list, you should be thinking, ‘How can I be at the top of that list?”

Almost any SEO tool can show how a company ranks in the search results for a given keyword. Grieselhuber says his goal was to build a Web-based system that would pull together performance data from many additional sources, show users how search engine rankings relate to Web traffic and revenue, and guide companies as they try to adjust the content of their sites to drive rankings up.

That’s a classic “big data” problem, since it involves tracking the performance of thousands of pages on large websites against thousands of keywords on several search engines and social media services. And that’s exactly where Grieselhuber’s interests as a programmer lie. He says Ginzametrics’ big advantage, when he was starting the company as a single founder inside Y Combinator in mid-2010, was that powerful distributed-computing and database tools like Hadoop and MongoDB were just becoming available, so he was able to optimize the software from the start to handle large sites.

“Because SEO has been such an agency-driven service industry, people don’t really view it in the context of what’s been happening in cloud computing and big data and large-scale analytics, but that’s one of the things that, as an engineer, I get really excited about,” Grieselhuber says. “It’s one of the reasons I was able to be so successful as a single founder. By taking a fresh start on this in 2010 I had a competitive edge over technologies that were built only a few years earlier.”

In contrast to older website optimization tools like Adobe’s Omniture SiteCatalyst, which runs on a company’s own infrastructure and can cost over $100,000 per year, Ginzametrics runs in the cloud and is available for $299 to $2,500 per month, depending on the number of pages and keywords being monitored. The biggest customers are following the performance of 300,000 or more keywords.

Grieselhuber’s original hypothesis was that SEO was a major pain point for these big publishers, and two years in, he says he’s validated it. “The ideal customer for us typically has a large number of domains that they’re managing, with really large keyword volumes and large numbers of customers,” he says. The hard part for these companies, he says, is not necessarily achieving a high search ranking, but discovering which keywords to emphasize in the content of their sites in the first place. “How do you focus on the keywords and the content that’s going to improve your sales the most over time? Conceptually, that’s not hard for people to understand, but when you’re dealing with really big sites, scaling it up is hard. Managing these simple concepts at scale is the problem we are trying to solve.”

Ginzametrics' social signals dashboard

Ginzametrics' social signals dashboard

Now, in addition to showing how a Web page is performing in search results for a given keyword, Ginzametrics can show customers social signals, such as the likes and shares their pages are attracting on Facebook, as well as retweets on Twitter and +1s on Google Plus. Garnering social media attention isn’t quite as straightforward as adjusting keywords to boost search rankings, but Grieselhuber says companies need to do both these days—in part because Google itself its paying more attention to social signals. “Pure SEO is phasing out in favor of a more holistic inbound marketing approach,” he says. “If you get good at making sure your content is well-shared on social networks, your likelihood of getting more natural backlinks and overall domain authority is much higher.”

In most big companies, SEO and social media campaigns are managed by separate teams. But Grieselhuber says he hopes that tools like Ginzametrics will bring them together, since at bottom, it’s all about the quality of the content on the company’s website. “The really smart companies are starting to roll up reporting into a single set of metrics that drive decisions,” he says. “If you are creating content and expecting to be found on a search engine, you had better be sure you are actually engaging with your customers, and the best way to engage with lots of customers at scale is through social media.”

Back in 2010, when I first met Grieselhuber, he said he’d been nose-to-grindstone for three straight years, without a single vacation. He said his hope, eventually, was to “automate myself out of a job” by making Ginzametrics into a completely self-service operation. I asked him recently whether that’s actually happened.

“Ah, pipe dreams,” he replied. “We do actually automate quite a bit relative to other companies in our space so we can stay lean, but I’m still busier than ever.”

On the other hand, Grieselhuber says his team is big enough now that the site won’t collapse if he’s away—so he’s taken a few much-needed vacations with his family since that first interview. As have I—so thanks for your patience, Ray.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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