Farzad Rashidi, lead innovator at Respona, a link-building tool, discusses the origin of the business as an internal tool within the content creation platform Visme. He shares top tips for getting good quality backlinks and creating backlink campaigns that benefit both the requesting business and the providing business.

He also shares how to capitalise on current trends and discusses a successful campaign involving Game of Thrones that dramatically increased Respona’s page rankings.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

Transcript: Interview with Farzad Rashidi – Respona

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Farzad Rashidi

Mike: 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 Farzad Rashidi. Farzad founded and is now the lead innovator at Respona. Welcome to the podcast. Farzad,

Farzad: Thank you so much for having me, Mike.

Mike: So far said we’d like to start off by asking our guests how they got to where they are today. So can you tell us a little bit about your career journey?

Farzad: Sure. Thanks. So I started my career in marketing at a company called Visby. Have you heard of vids? Me, Mike before?

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Their presentation tools company.

Farzad: That’s right. Yeah. So it’s an all in one visual content creation platform. For businesses. We came around the same time as Canva kind of went down the b2c market and they’ve now become a household name, we took a different approach focus a little bit more on the business side of things. So cater predominantly to SMB, and enterprise. And so I joined as a first marketing hire Bazmee. And we basically grew, the company completely bootstrapped to over 20 million active users. And the way we acquired all these customers and users has been predominantly through our content and SEO. So right now visit means website is getting close to about 4 million monthly organic traffic. And so lots of lots of trial and error to get there. However, what what was really key to kind of help skyrocket our traffic at this meeting was our Off Page promotion tactics, which basically helped us build relationships with relevant authoritative publications in our space. And those tactics were sort of done all over the place by manual work and spreadsheets and whatnot. So we put it together under one roof. And it was sort of an internal software for us for for a little while, and it just worked ridiculously well. And we decided to release it as a standalone product. So that’s kind of the backstory of how we ended up with Respona.

Mike: And did respond to spin out as a separate company, or you will the same company,

Farzad: separate entities. However, we are self funded, in a way. So we are funded by Visby. They’re technically our investor. But yes, we were kind of incubated out of there.

Mike: So it’s pretty cool. So you did so well, with the first company, you were able to fund the second that sounds awesome. Thank you. So you talked about your off page SEO activities, and that was how you grew versus me. So Respona is basically that internal product you built that’s now available to the public. So can you give me a you know, just a brief overview of what Respona does and what people would get if they subscribe to it? Sure,

Farzad: I mean, I don’t mean this to be a plug for Respona. Most of us responded as really, you can do manually yourself. And that’s actually what I recommend everyone to start, if you’re not doing any sort of off page, promotion is better to always start manually and kind of get a proof of concept and see if this is something that works well in your niche. And if so then great. And our respondents kind of a gasoline, a floor on that fire and help scaling things without losing that personalised touch. And in that human touch. So kind of what our platform does is very simple. So from a technical perspective, you can find any website and it finds you the right people on those websites and helps you contact them with a personalised pitch, both through email and LinkedIn. So there’s a bunch of different components to it. So today, you would normally have to purchase multiple different tools and conducted them together that respondent sort of brings together under one roof and automates a lot of dirty work and a lot of that, that tedious manual tasks that you can focus more on personalising the pitches and actually building relationships versus, you know, dealing with overhead. Now, as far as the use cases for the platform goes, just to kind of give you some examples, there’s there’s myriad of different ways in how we use this internally. And also different ways that customers find use cases for right. But predominantly, unless you produce a piece of linkable assets and, and you’d like to potentially get other publications to talk about and mention it, and then those backlinks and those mentions from those relevant publications, help your domain authority to go up and, and help that content piece kind of pass on that link equity to other pages in your websites. And now you start coming up in the search results for your own target keywords. So that process though, basically, just to kind of give you some examples, that there’s one strategy, for example, what we call the podcast outreach strategy, and this is what I’m doing right now. Right?

So the way we found a you Mike and team got in touch with your team and found you and reached out was all through response. So responding, for example, helps you find people in your space that I’ve been on auto podcasts and And, and helps you weed out the podcasts and nobody listens to you and, and find you the right person in charge of that podcast gets you the contacts, all of that stuff is fully automated so that you can actually spend the time to do research on a podcast and say, Listen to feel the episode, see if this is the type of podcasts that we can come and add value to, and then reach out to the right person. And basically ask them if they’d be open to hosting a guest because now at that point, we have a pretty clear understanding of what the podcast is audiences and what they’re interested in. And then we come on to the show to help the podcast hosts create an episode, but at the same time, we get indirect awareness for our brand. And also at the same time you kind of chopped this episode into no other blog posts or the types of content or repurpose them. So that also gives us a mention or a backlink from your own website. And that, you know, it’s a vote of popularity and other search engines. So that’s one out of a myriad of other different tactics and strategies that respond to help sweat.

Mike: So that’s such a really interesting answer. I mean, we were out guesting on podcasts as well. And it was really interesting, because we found that our SEO was improving. When we started guessing on podcasts, we had no idea why it was improving. And eventually we dug in, we found out what all the new backlinks were. And most of them were driven by podcasts. So I think that’s really interesting. A lot of people are excited about podcasts. But there’s more benefits than just appearing on the podcast.

Farzad: Exactly. And you know, obviously, it’s not to say we’re only here, Mike just cannot get a backlink from your website, that that’s just a simplistic answer. Obviously, there’s myriads of benefits. Number one, for me, at least, the reason why I spend an hour of my time is because I want to meet smart people in our industry, like yourself, building these relationships. And also at the same time, you know, that’s advertising to a niche audience helping you create that content piece. So it’s a mutually beneficial collaboration that happens. And that’s the type of approach that we take when it comes to any sort of outreach tactic, right? They know that, for example, we applied that also to digital PR, which is I know, it’s one of your expertise as well as your agency. So like, the way we go about kind of average is a little different than most people were that basically just span the world and kind of hope for the best. It’s like very highly mutually collaborative type of approach that we take when it comes to average.

Mike: So I think, you know, a lot of people here, even if they’re not SEO professionals, they understand that the more backlinks you get the high quality backlinks, the better your ranking, and Google is one of one of the factors, not obviously the only one. But it seems to be that Link building is is a real problem. And it’s kind of got tarred with this reputation of being a bit sleazy sometimes, so I’m really interested to know, you know, why is it such a problem for SEO to build those links.

Farzad: So it’s just because it’s new. So if you think about like, in the early 2000s, when sales outreach became a thing, like outbound, I know. And then people discovered email, as a broached when it comes to prospecting. Everyone just started blasting emails to everyone, and it was quite spamming. And now fast forward two decades later, now, it’s a much more sophisticated type approach, where now the account executives that reach out to you know your dog’s name, and, you know, they actually are reaching out with, with a clear value prop, and it’s working for some of the companies, not something we’re good at at all. But you know, it’s working for some companies in some certain industries, when it comes to Link building is just because I feel like that’s my personal opinion. It’s just, it’s simply new. It’s become a thing recently in the past few years. And marketers don’t really know what they’re doing yet. They’re still discovering it. So what what happens when you don’t know what you’re doing is that you kind of resort to simplistic tactics like, Hey, let me just send an email to 1000 people and ask them for a backlink. See what happens. And 99.9% of cases is that answer dot question is nothing, nothing is going to happen. So wasted time, you just wasted your time. So I think over time marketers kind of kind of learn sort of what, what strategies work. And a lot of it has to do with adding value, right? So you don’t want to ask people to do something for you. You add value and create value together. And the sort of mutual benefit of collaboration is sort of what we’re advocating for. And that’s something that respond facilitates.

Mike: That’s really interesting. See, you mentioned, you know, that there’s a few ways to build those, those mutually beneficial partnerships. So, I mean, it sounds like you believe Link building is not just something that should sit in, in the SEO professionals role, but actually, other people, you know, for example, PR, should be thinking about the impact on SEO, of what they’re doing. I mean, you want to talk a little bit about that,

Farzad: Of course, and, you know, I can I can talk some examples. I feel like it’s a lot more helpful than just talking in hypotheticals. So when it comes to link building, the way we define it again, I I hate that term, even though that’s kind of what our industry is just because so much negative connotations involved with it. And the UK, you folks call it digital PR, and that I like the sound of that more. But as far as the strategy goes, still comes down to the very basics. So one of the biggest mistakes a lot of folks make when it comes to average, that they try to build links to sales pages and like pages that they want to come up in the search results, right. That’s the number one thing people think about when it comes to link building. And like, Okay, I built this landing page of my services page, and I want it to come up in the search results. So let’s go see if I can build links to it. And that’s just the wrong approach because nobody wants to mention and genuinely talk about a sales page. Right? So let me let me give you an example. One of the very successful campaigns are ran at visit me was right before the last season of Game of Thrones came out. Have you watched Game of Thrones, Mike,

Mike: Do you know what falls out? I’ve not watched Game of Thrones. I think I’m the only person on the planet. Oh, come on,

Farzad: Mike. All right, you got some catching up to do. But anyhow. So before the last season, the cable firms came out. Everyone’s talking about Oh, who’s gonna win the game of thrones. Yeah, yada, yada. And so this means the data is tool that’s one of the unique features that they know helps to create really cool data visualisations. So what we did was just take the data from a betting website of what characters people were betting on winning the game of thrones. And, and put it together in this blog post that we talked about, okay, here’s like when we predict or who the public predicts, to be that to be the winner. And what we did then, was that we fired up response. And then we looked up all the latest news articles that were published on the Game of Thrones. And it’s something they don’t normally traditionally do with a PR database, right? Because it’s not a traditional industry, you don’t reach out to anybody who’s interested in movies, right? So we want it to be very targeted towards people who had just covered like, earlier today, published an article on like a character and give us a response to helps you find those contacts with the author. And that gets through the contact information. And then we reach reached out and say, Hey, Mike, and I just found your article on Forbes about Game of Thrones. And we just put together a really cool DataViz, on whom the public is picking to be the winner. And that brought in by 60 or so press mentions that just one campaign to that content piece. Now, you must say doesn’t have any business value? No, absolutely not. Because, yes, those press mentions are not necessarily something that we’re directly selling, right? We’re not in the movie business. However, those mentions to our website, are a voucher of popular vote to popularity, nice photo searching. And so what we call link equity, which is means basically how much popularity you have gets passed on to other pages on our website. So now our data visualisation software landing page is ranking number one, because of the amount of credibility we built for our website in those topics. So this is not to say this is the one sites you know, everybody should go create DataViz on. The reason why we did that is because we are in the data was business, right? So there’s a myriad of different ways on how you can go about this. But I just wanted to kind of paint a picture of an example of a type of campaign that we ran, specifically when it comes to digital PR.

Mike: So that’s really interesting, because I know, when it comes to the links that come in, the more relevant the site the links to that, that’s also good. So what you were looking to do was, was pitch this story ostensibly about Game of Thrones, but pitch it into articles that talked about data visualisation. And so you’ve got that credibility for being a database product through the content of the story. Is that Is that what you’re trying to do?

Farzad: Yes. And it’s not to say this is all we do, right? So we actually do those and batches anytime it would make sense. On a more granular basis, anytime we put out a linkable asset, or any sort of pieces of content that add some value in terms of education. We have other strategies that we follow, for example, we can understand, okay, what are some of the older pages on that topic that have been published? Dad, obviously, we’ve created a far superior piece of content so we can see, okay, where else they have been mentioned. And so that normally gives you a lot more relevant, you know, websites that are not necessarily news publications, but other websites that we could potentially reach out to, and again, start a collaboration with them to either give us an addition or replacement. And again, I’m just going through different types of strategies. Each one has a different specific purpose. And that’s been one of the main challenges. That response has been customer education, right to kind of teach people how to do these things the right way. And so we kind of had to incorporate a lot of these education into the product as well. So now when the users go in there, we don’t just put them into this blank canvas and we’re like, okay, you should To start your campaign, we’ll give you like specific strategies you can click into and kind of walk the user through that different strategies to kind of help kind of do some hand holding to get put them on the right track.

Mike: So that sounds like you’re aiming this product, you know, almost open up access to this, this part of off page SEO, to people who actually aren’t SEO experts. Is that is that one of your goals?

Farzad: Absolutely, yes. And we don’t actually require folks to be an SEO expert to do any sort of promotion. Because when it comes to getting other folks to talk about users, there’s several benefits to it. Other than just the backlink you get to your website, for example, one of the first strategies we ever ran for respond to, and actually nothing to do with our SEO, what we did using our own platform was to reach out to other blog post I had listed, for example, what are some of the best tools for link building or some of the best outreach tools? What are some of the best PR tools and secured mentioned in those listicles that basically would potentially drive referral traffic? So the goal of that campaign was actually tirely? Independent of right SEO? Does it help with our domain rating? Absolutely. Because, you know, there’s a website talking about us. But that’s kind of an indirect benefit that happens after the primary goal. So, you know, these sort of tactics, I think any business has to do, like, even if you, for example, you’re in commerce, like we have lots of online stores, they use responded like, for example, one of them. And that was quite interesting, it’s quite eccentric was was a CBD gummy company that basically sell like CBD gummies, that just became legal in the US. So they can’t do any sort of advertising, Facebook or Instagram. So what they do is basically reach out to other news publications, blog posts that have elicited similar products or whatnot, and trying to send them a free product to get themselves mentioned on there. So again, every day, I find, you know, different use cases, different type of ways and how folks try to make it work. But yes, that’s kind of the gist of it. So it’s far beyond the scope of SEO.

Mike: I mean, that’s an interesting range of customers you’ve gotten and so you know, markets, I mean, presumably, off page SEO, SEO link building, I mean, that’s something that applies to almost any company can benefit from that.

Farzad: Yes, but when it comes to developing a marketing strategy, you can’t say we developed this platform for all businesses of all kinds, right? It’s just a big mistake. So we had to kind of narrow down our focus on some of the more tech savvy customers that were, they were aware of what Link building is and what they were doing normally themselves manually. So we get to target market we picked to start with the market to again, the product could be used in different ways. But that from a marketing standpoint, where we developed, our messaging was mainly targeted towards marketing agencies, because first of all, you guys are doing this on a daily so and you normally do it at a larger scale, because you’re managing dozens of clients. So normally, these are higher value customers for us, because you’re gonna stick around for a long run and also, ideally purchase the higher tier plan. And also other software companies, SAS companies that in already had a content team that already have an SEO person, they already know what they’re doing. So it’s very easy for them to get the value of the platform, not ecommerce bloggers, publications, we have a small percentage of our customers that are from those areas, and they get a lot of value from it. But obviously, you know, we have to kind of pick our battles when it comes to messaging. So those were the two target markets we pay.

Mike: That’s interesting. So looking at the people who, you know, obviously everyone could benefit, but you’re really focusing down on who’s going to get the maximum benefit from that platform is a great bit of marketing in terms of identifying the target market by value and love that. Thank you. I just need to move on. I mean, it’s a question. I think at the moment, everybody’s got to ask, and that’s that’s the AI question. There’s obviously a lot of hype around AI and particularly, where people are using Respona to reach out to people, you know, I think there’s obviously opportunity for generative AI for for emails. I mean, what are you doing around AI? And what do you think the future is for AI in marketing?

Farzad: You know, it’s interesting, bring this out, Mike, because we’re actually in the development process. Now. I think it may sound like it’s tech ro. saying these things, but I think AI is definitely going to revolutionise the way businesses do business. And it’s something that’s applicable to all sorts of industries, not just software, but law like lawyers, I don’t know, real estate agents, all sorts of businesses are going to be impacted sooner, sooner or later. And any company that doesn’t keep themselves updated is at a risk of becoming obsolete. So, as far as response goes, there are several stages of phases that we’ve planned phase one is going to be kind of creating that messaging. So, you know, generative AI has become pretty good at creating very engaging emails and pitches based on campaign objectives, obviously got to train it, modify it. And we have a mass amount of data available to us in terms of what are some of the best practices, what are some of the best type messaging to work best. And so helping other customers kind of getting to that level without having to hire you know, or contact manager or whatnot. And also from second phase perspective is in terms of personalization. So, we actually already utilised a good amount of artificial intelligence in the background of respondents. Like, for example, we have an article summarizer feature where it would actually read the article and summarises the piece, so that you can take that information and personalise your messaging, that process of personalising your message is right now manual. So next phase of our products kind of go live this quarter is automating data as well. So not only it will go and reads the article, and also knows the author and Li reads their LinkedIn URL. So now we have information about the person, we have a lot of information about the content that you have written, and we already have a pit. So it’s quite easy to combine this together and create a highly personalised pitch without having human involvement. And so that’s something that’s coming next and that we’re very excited about. So what’s going to happen after is predominantly going to be in terms of putting together these campaigns in the first place, right? So right now respond has a lot of automation that helps you kind of go through these campaigns pretty quickly. But coming up with those campaign ideas, and having those done in the first place, is something that a human has to do. And I don’t think that’s required. So the next phase of that will probably be actually helping you automate a lot of that. So you kind of plug and play your website and help respond to kind of take care of the rest. So that’s kind of the direction we’re heading to, obviously. And are we going to have to play it step by step?

Mike: And do you think this is going to be a positive thing? Because, you know, I think one of the things a lot of people are concerned about is once AI is being widely used to generate emails, that the volume of marketing emails can be almost unmanageable to deal with the inbound emails you get.

Farzad: Right? Absolutely. And I think there’s going to be solutions to help you manage your inbox after they’re already sent out there. So yes, you have to kind of go back to the beginning of the interview where I mentioned, when we conduct average, we’re creating value. We’re not just asking people to do something for us. So what well, we facilitate with respondents is these mutually beneficial collaborations, for example of kind of going back to that podcast, interview, podcast hosts are on the hunt for good guests. And they welcome good guests to come on to the podcast. So if respondent helps you find those podcasts that are a perfect fit and reaches out to them, and actually does the research to know that there’s a fit and sends you a personalised pitch. This is something from a podcast host perspective, you get three or four different pitches, good pitches from suitable guests, that’s something that you would welcome because then now you have a pool of candidates of interviewees that you can pick from, right. So it’s not to say that this is going to necessarily spam your inbox, but also just putting better guests in front of you from that perspective. So, you know, the way I would look at it is as long as it’s done for good, it’s never a bad idea to do more good. If that makes sense.

Mike: Now, it makes a lot of sense that he’s certainly work with us. I mean, we turn down the vast majority of pitches we get for guests on our podcast. So whatever you you did through a spoon, it definitely worked for us. So that’s great. I’m interested. No, I mean, I’m aware of your time. And when there’s a couple of questions, we’d like to ask people. So I’m really interested to know, if you’re talking to a young person today, would you say marketing’s a career to go into? Or would you advise them to maybe look elsewhere?

Farzad: That is a very great question. I think it comes down to what you’re good at, right? Because marketing could be a great field to be in if you’re, if that’s something that you’re passionate about, and you really like as cheesy as it sounds. And it could be a horrible for a person that may not necessarily like the nuances that goes into it. So if a young person is listening to this, I would say do look at what you’re doing your free time and see what you do for free that you it’s not for work, it’s not for money, you do it out of your own entertainment. And it could be sports, it could be, you know, it could be whatever that you do and see if that’s the type of area he tend to look at as a career. So that’s what I would leave with that.

Mike: I think that’s great advice. I love that. And we also like to steal a few good ideas from our guests as well. So I’m interested to know what’s the best bit of marketing advice you’ve ever been given?

Farzad: That there’s no one size fits all strategy. You know, when I started my career, I was looking at other companies and how they were doing their marketing. And I would try to copy a lot of his ideas and they’ll most of them didn’t turn out to bear any fruit even though it worked for another business. So instead of kind of focusing on what other companies are doing, what really worked for us has been kind of talking to our customers understanding how they come across a solution like ours. And having that face to face interaction really directs a lot of our marketing strategy. So I guess that that would be something I would say is that I wish I knew this sooner that instead of looking at Laura’s kind of look, and works when it comes to marketing,

Mike: I love that. And that’s also a great way to get more creativity into marketing, which I think is a real positive thing. Absolutely. So far, so thank you so much for being on the podcast. I’m sure. There’s a lot of people that would like to, you know, maybe ask questions or just learn more about Respona. So, what’s the best place for them to go to either contact you or find out about Respona?

Farzad: Well, my name is Farzad Rashidi aren’t a whole lot of us out there. So I stick out like a sore thumb on LinkedIn. The best, best way to get a hold of me is just to look up my name on LinkedIn.

Mike: That’s awesome Farzad. Thanks so much for being a guest and sharing your insights. I really appreciate it.

Farzad: It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Mike.

Mike: 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 Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.