In this podcast episode we interview Mike Roberts, Founder and CEO of SpyFu, a search analytics tool offering competitor keyword research tools.

Mike discusses how the tool leverages search data in real time, providing users with the data to build informed and successful campaigns for both paid search and SEO.

He also shares how the tool provides insights on multi-lingual campaigns, and how users should view competitor data to successfully influence future marketing campaigns.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

Transcript: Interview with Mike Roberts – SpyFu

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Mike Roberts

Mike M: Thanks for listening to marketing b2b Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in b2b marketing today.

Welcome to marketing b2b technology, the podcast from Napier. Today, I’m joined by Mike Roberts. Mike is the founder and CEO at SpyFu. Welcome to the podcast. Mike.

Mike R: Thanks so much for having me.

Mike M: Well, I mean, you started a marketing technology company SpyFu. I mean, how did you get there? What’s your career story?

Mike R: Oh, yeah, before SpyFu? Well, I had another software company. And the idea was to take data off the internet and put it into a spreadsheet or database. And it was called Web scraper plus, I would originally describe the product I described what we did as web data extraction, which is like a really nerdy way of describing technically, it was a correct way to describe what we’re doing. But our customers didn’t search for it that way, right. And so I didn’t realise that until relatively late in the game, right, I was making sort of scraping by barely with this business. And then I changed the name from provide us, which is a terrible name, to web scraper plus a very descriptive name, but also a very good SEO name. And when I did that, I like quadrupled my sales pretty much overnight. And I was like, dang, I wonder if there’s something else, something else that I’m missing? Are there any other keywords that I’m too nerdy to think of, that my customers are searching for? So I thought about it, and I sort of built this thing using web scraper plus, right, like, originally, I just like whipped together this prototype of SpyFu, to see if I could to see if I could spy on people’s keywords, right. So you can type in a domain, one of my competitors domain and see all the keywords they buy. And the way to do that is to is to scrape all of Google just do millions and millions and millions of searches. And then you could kind of do like a reverse search of it. That’s where that came from. I built it to solve my own problem to solve my own kind of nerd curse of knowledge. We call it right, if you have your own company, or if you’re in a space, you sort of think of it in different ways. You think of like low fares versus cheap tickets, this kind of this kind of misconception, right? And that’s what I solve for myself and ultimately solve for lots of people. Before there was SpyFu. There were no other products like our product. We’re kind of the Oh, geez. Awesome. So I’m you kind of hinted at what SpyFu does, but can you give us a brief summary of exactly what the products doing what problem it’s now solving? Yeah, you can type in any keyword into SpyFu. And you can see every keyword that they have ever bought on Google, every organic ranking, that they have all their ads, and their their entire ad campaign and organic search campaign, from beginning to end. What’s interesting about that level of history of like 15 years of history is that you can see the very first ad like 99% of companies haven’t been advertising this long, haven’t had a campaign this long. You can see every iteration they’ve ever done, like, you know, 100 of them, it’s so that you can see you can learn from people’s mistakes, I don’t mean to suffer through them yourself. You can also see this for your own SEO campaign or anybody’s SEO campaign. So you can look back in the past, kind of like having your Google Search Console, but for any number of years, right? And not just for your domain. The beauty is, you know, you have these tools, Google Search Console, or Google Analytics, or Google ads, you have these for your own domain. But SpyFu gives these things to you. For anybody’s domain, your competitors are primarily who people want to look at. Right? But you can also use it for things like partners or potential acquisitions or whatever.

Mike M: That sounds cool. So are you still doing it the same way? You still basically feeding these searches into Google and seeing what comes out?

Mike R: Is that the the approach the tool uses, broadly speaking, yeah, I mean, every piece of data that you can see on SpyFu is auditable back to a screenshot of the search engine result page. Right. So going back, we have SERPs from 2008. And you can see you know that somebody’s been advertising this is really important. Because sometimes what we say you might not believe, right? We’re saying, Look, this is a keyword that you’re you’re buying, you know, you’re matching on this keyword, you’re paying for this keyword, and you don’t realise that you’re paying for it. And so you might say, No, I’m not, I’m not buying that. It’s like, yeah, look, it’s right here. Here’s the screenshot of it. So that’s important sometimes, especially if you’re talking to your customer, you want to be able to prove to them that you’re speaking the truth.

Mike M: That’s interesting. So is it really for SEO specialists? Or do you see anyone using Google Ads benefiting from SpyFu?

Mike R: Yeah, so we have customers from you know, huge mall.

I’ll type billion dollar fortune 500 companies all the way down to startups. And we have agencies and we have professional marketers and everyone in between.

Mike M: So presuming it’s really simple, you just put in a search term or a domain and SpyFu gives you results. Is it that simple?

Mike R: It is. Yeah.

Mike M: That’s awesome. I mean, one of the things I’m interested in is how do you know what people are searching on and where people are advertising? presuming you have to work on generating millions and millions of different searches? Is that something that’s complicated? How’s that driven?

Mike R: Yeah, so we can get some first party data Clickstream data, if you will, about what people are searching for on the internet. And we can also like supplement that data with data from Google, right? So that historically, we’ve used a lot of keyword planner or keyword planners predecessor to sort of, like when I first did this thing, I think, for the prototype, what I used was Google suggests, so I would just start with a few seed keywords, and then type those into the Google Suggest right, and then scrape those ones, and then push those ones in and keep going and going and going, basically, recursively until I had a huge list, obviously, now we’ve got more sophisticated methods, and we literally can see what people are searching for in real time. And and we leverage that probably more than anything else. But we combine quite a few sources. Everything’s really sophisticated, you know, as you can imagine, many, many years and many iterations into it. i That’s fascinating. I mean, Are there limitations, though? Because it’s quite hard to generate the whole universe of searches, does it cause you a problem? For example, when we look at foreign language, Google engines, for example.

Does it causes problems? I mean, it’s challenging, in a sense, because I only speak fluently, I can read a few different languages pretty well. But like just QA ng things when you’re kind of at the top level, trying to try to make sure that everything’s working right. So as far as I know it works fine. But I would bet that we have, just like Google, we probably have better results in English than we do in in other languages.

Mike M: probably makes sense. Well, they’ve presumably, you’ve got a lot of happy foreign language customers, though.

Mike R: Yes, for sure. I’ll give you an example of that, right? Like one thing that we do that’s quite useful as you can type in a keyword and you can see all the questions that are related to that keyword, or you can type in a domain and see which which questions they rank on. And this is really useful for sort of topic drill downs, when you’re building like a piece of content, maybe you already have one, and you just want to sort of make it better, right, just start answering questions. It’s really easy. And so SpyFu gives you all these questions that people are asking, well, the process of figuring out how to identify what is a question is a very linguistic thing. And it requires sort of specialist knowledge of the language specialist in the sense that you speak you understand it. So that’s one thing where it’s sort of difficult to figure out what a question is when you don’t speak the language. And you know, we have a process for this, and we figure it out.

But we have a way to scale it. But as you kind of get to the edge cases of languages, it’s more difficult,

Mike M: is really interesting. I mean, another area, I would guess is quite hard as well, you have very long tail keywords, does it get hard to estimate things like, you know, how many searches and how much the spend is for some of the longer tail keywords?

Mike R: Well, the spend might be quite difficult, because what we get back from Google is, I mean, if you’ve been in the industry long enough, it’s almost comical, how terrible some of the raw data that we get that you can get from like, Keyword Planner, Google ads is it’s not great.

Actually, worse than great.

I mean, like kind of the opposite, I guess you’d say. So So that’s, that’s difficult on those longtail keywords, we can estimate those things we can figure out like sort of like they’re they’re related keyword neighbourhood, if you will, and and make some suggestions, assumptions based on that in terms of the search volume. Yeah, certainly, if we’ve never seen the keyword before, but we have so much like, we have so much data, so much Clickstream data and so on. That it, it’s reasonable to assume if we haven’t seen that it actually has very little volume. And so then we can say, well, it’s either zero or like it’s 20 clicks or something, you know, it’s 20 searches is very small. Yeah, so maybe it’s quite noisy at that, that real longtail bid, but over the overall campaign for a competitor, it actually doesn’t make a lot of difference. Not really now.

I guess the other question is now, you know, Google’s pushing people into responsive ads where you know, ads serve with different headlines, different descriptions. I mean, obviously, you’re trying to capture the ad. Does that again, is that some

thing where you tend to see the winning combinations, or how does that work? Typically, we’ll see the same ad on many, many different keywords. Right. And so we’re taking multiple snapshots, we’re just gathering so much information, that when you’re looking at actual ad copy, yeah, we’ve got 20 snapshots per month, by the way, SpyFu is, is real time I talk in terms of per month, but it’s just a random timeframe. Everything happens every every five seconds or whatever. But we’ll have we’ll have like multiple snapshots of the same ad copy. And then we kind of roll that all up and say, Well, here’s the most frequently occurring variant. And we usually base that on. Well, we based on the ad copy, but it’s more weighted on the actual headline, the number one.

Mike M: Makes sense. I mean, I guess one of the questions is, you know, if somebody tries to SpyFu, I mean, what should they do? Are you saying people should copy their competitors just steal the best ideas? I mean, what’s the best way to use SpyFu? To improve your campaigns?

Mike R: Okay, so So the, the most important thing that that I think, takes a second to realise is that the competitor that you immediately think of might not be the one whose ideas are worth emulating, right? So you’re thinking, Okay, I’ve got this direct competitor, I want to know what they’re doing. See if they’ve got Okay, so let’s see if they’ve got something that you haven’t. Right. But broadly speaking, the first thing you look at as well, do they have something that I don’t? Okay? Have they thought of an idea that I haven’t thought of? That’s the first thing you want to think of? Right? Okay, so that’s my random direct competitor, but may not be really, you know, particularly good at this, you know, this form of marketing, right? But you do want to see if they’ve thought of something that you haven’t, so you do that. But then when you really want to, like kind of like, take your, you know, marketing to the next level, you find somebody that’s doing it on a scale that you are, that’s worthy of admiration, right. And that may not be your direct and your most direct competitor might be somebody in a similar space. Or it might be somebody that’s more like national or global than you are, you might be like, more locally focused, find that big competitor that’s really executing well, and and take what they’ve done and improve upon that and apply it to what you’re doing selecting the right competitors key.

Mike M: And presumably, identifying the competitor is something SpyFu could do that you wouldn’t necessarily do yourself.

Mike R: Yeah. Yeah, like the first set of results that you get is like competitor suggestions, the first thing we say is, here’s what their blend of organic and paid traffic looks like, here’s how much they spent. All this stuff is free, by the way, you can go to SpyFu type this stuff in. There’s there’s very few tools today. And in b2b SaaS, where you can actually get things for free, right? SpyFu, you can type stuff in and look at domains, and you can see the top level results for free. It’s not until you like want to download, you know all the keywords, you can get more than five or 10 keywords that you you have to like create an account. And I think that’s pretty key. I mean, I think that’s nice. We do that, you know, for a reason, not necessarily just for monetary gain. It’s just to help the community keep everything, you know, like the way it should be.

And presumably, as well, people are liking what they see, because they’re converting to paid customers as well. Oh, yeah, for sure.

Mike M: So you’ve kind of answered part of the question. Now, the the initial cost is nothing, just go to the type in either a search term or a competitor domain, and you get the results. I mean, what if people want to dig a bit deeper? I mean, how expensive does a tool get them?

Mike R: Yeah, so SpyFu is like $39 a month, all you can eat, you can. With $39, you can do as many searches as you want, you can download as much stuff as you want. I think there may be some, there’s some limits, I think at this point on on, on the $39 plan, it gets actually this the all you can eat plan is $79, which lets you download, you know, like a million keywords from any domain right now. And actually, for the last few months we’ve been partnering with with click cease, which is a pay per click bot detection platform. Anyway, what happens is you can get SpyFu for $9 a month. If you sign up for a click cease trial, you sign up for SpyFu then you go sign up for click SES and send like this little receipt that you get, and then you get SpyFu forever for $9. And then you know, of course clicks these pays us and that’s how the whole thing works. It’s like you can technically get SpyFu for nine bucks a month, which is pretty pretty dope or $96 a year. It’s forever. It’s a good deal. Wow, that’s awesome. Yeah. So

Mike M: I’m interested. I mean, we’ve talked a little bit and particularly about the paid search side of SpyFu. What do people do in terms of balancing for looking at SEO versus To the paid it took people tend to use SpyFu for paid, I think that’s what I know SpyFu for.

Mike R: We’re pretty famous for the paid we absolutely have. And we’ve always had the best results for paid, right, like everybody knows us for paid. And if you compare us against any competitor will tend to have like 10 times more paid results. But we get an equal number of SEO customers. And we actually have more keywords than any of the competitors that we have more results than SEMrush or Ahrefs. If you type in a domain, you’ll see that there’s more SEO results, SEO keywords, and obviously will destroy everybody on pay paid keywords. That’s a relatively new thing. Actually, we spent the last couple years rebuilding our entire back end infrastructure so that we could do 5 billion searches a month, it’s just like, massive, massive scale, you may have been familiar with SpyFu was doing US and UK, we’ve recently launched to like 20 countries, and will will launch to, you know, all of the countries in the course of the next six months. So much bigger, much more real time platform, it used to be that SpyFu would operate on a monthly cadence. And we now operate, you know, when we do a search, it’s live on the site within seconds, you know, so the whole thing is real time, massive, international bigger than everybody’s data. It’s pretty fun. It’s a big challenge.

Mike M: So presuming that that’s quite a cool thing for people who are maybe in PR who are looking to, you know, news, Jack stories or find trending issues, you can actually see what’s changing in real time.

Mike R: Yeah, for sure. Getting those real time keywords into the index is is tricky. But we have a process that gets those things in as quickly as we can.

Mike M: Cool.

One other thing, you know, I’d like to ask you, we’ve got a couple of clients in Phoenix. I know you’re based in Phoenix, what do you see the benefits of being based there rather than being based in Silicon Valley where everyone expects software startups to be?

Mike R: Oh, man, that well, you know, I think that in some sense, it’s harder to get funding, you know, which actually seems like a detriment, but in our case, it’s, you know, SpyFu is completely bootstrapped company, I started in my garage, you know, like kind of the old fashioned way, if you will, in the beginning, that’s a tough place to be. But at the end of the day, it’s the best place to be, we can do anything, we can make decisions that benefit our customers, and not like a board of directors, and not like some specific exit plan. So, for example, we keep our pricing low. Because when we do, we make the same amount of money, like if we were to double our price, we would get half the number of customers and vice versa. So we keep the price at a at a place that’s affordable to our customers, right? We want to level the playing field for small businesses and entrepreneurs. And so we provide intentionally excess value, because it’s, it’s our mission, our mission is to help everybody do better at marketing, so that they can make more money and spend more time with their families. Like the whole, the whole thing is create value in the world. Right? That’s what we do.

Mike M: So awesome. It’s been such an interesting conversation. I know, you know, a lot of people listening would like to go and try SpyFu. And obviously, as you said, you could do that for free. Is there anything else you feel we should have covered about the product or about what you see in terms of b2b marketing?

Mike R: Oh, not that I can think of, I think you did a great job. I really appreciated your your questions. Awesome. And if anybody would like to follow up and ask a question, how can we get ahold of you? Yeah, sure. I mean, I’m you can probably reach out to me on LinkedIn, or Reddit, or Twitter. Oh, I’m Mr. Spy on Twitter. That works. MRSPY Sometimes I’m on Reddit and respond, but sometimes, sometimes not. Oh, um, sparked a post on Reddit.

Mike M: Awesome. I love Mr. Spy. That’s a pretty good Twitter handle. Thank you so much, Mike for being on the podcast. I hope everyone who’s either involved in SEO or paid search, they take a look at SpyFu. And if nothing else, take a look at the free product and maybe take a look at the paid but clearly very good value for money product. Thanks so much for being on the podcast. Yeah, thank you.

Thanks so much for listening to marketing b2b Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at or contact me directly on LinkedIn.