We Created A $420K/Year Tool That "Redirects" Website Traffic

Matt Bentley
Marketing Lead, Sniply
$35K
revenue/mo
3
Founders
3
Employees
Sniply
from San Francisco, CA, USA
started February 2014
$35,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
3
Employees
59K
alexa rank
43
followers
39.3K
followers
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We Created A $420K/Year Tool That "Redirects" Website Traffic

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Matt Bentley. I’m the Marketing Lead at Sniply, a custom URL shortener that adds a custom CTA button to any page you share on social media. Sniply is a B2B product and our customers are usually startup founders, brand managers, and social media managers.

We have 550 paying customers, including large marketing companies, and have been featured on Forbes, Entrepreneur, and Moz. Our annual revenue is about $420k.

we-created-a-6-6m-year-tool-that-steals-website-traffic

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The original Sniply team was a group of Simon Fraser University graduates working out of a coworking space. Sniply was created to solve a common problem in the content marketing industry - that of losing the customers you get from curating other people’s content. In this podcast interview, original co-founder Michael Cheng describes his eureka moment when he came up with the idea for Sniply was when someone asked him how much ROI he was gaining from the time he spent on social media.

It’s common practice in social media marketing to share other people’s third-party content from other brands in your space that aren’t your own, including your competitors. This is known as content curation, it demonstrates to your audience that you are placing their own needs and interests before your own as a way to earn their trust.

The rule of thumb is that your feed should be 70% your content that stimulates interest in your brand, 20% curated and third-party content that provides value to your audience, and 10% promotional content that directly promotes your product or service. This is known as the 70-20-10 rule, and it’s one of the theories behind content marketing.

The problem here is that when you share 3rd party content on your profiles, you drive traffic away from you and towards your competitors. This is the problem that we created Sniply to solve.

We thought to ourselves, “what if we could take the users that you divert from your curated content, and then send them back to you?” That’s what Sniply does - it adds a custom call-to-action button on any page you share that leads them back to your website.

Take us through the process of designing, and prototyping your first product.

Designing and prototyping Sniply was the easy part. The founders who made Sniply were all software engineers with years of experience in big tech, and the actual nuts and bolts of Sniply as a product weren’t that complicated.

There are three basic components to Sniply: 1) the page you share, 2) the messaging on the CTA button, and 3) the CTA button itself. Sniply creates a new version of the URL you share, along with a version of the page that has your brand’s CTA button with a custom message embedded in the corner. The user experience is otherwise unchanged - they’re still reading the same content with the same information on it.

Sniply uses a subscription model as a lot of similar SaaS apps and CRO tools use with the basic package starting at $29 a month. We also offer a free trial, which makes it easy for people to familiarize themselves with the tool before committing financially to it.

We started with the basic functions of a link shortener then added additional features to make it unique and valuable to marketers. We built a CRO tool, not just a link shortener.

When most people think of CRO tools they think about landing page builders like Unbounce, web page behavioral heat maps like Crazy Egg and Hotjar, or analytics tools like Google Analytics. They deal with the actual parts of the funnel-like the social media ads and the landing pages or the marketing analytics, rather than URLs.

There are social media managers of course, like Hootsuite and Buffer, but those are tools you use to plan and schedule your content. URL shorteners like Bit.ly and TinyURL are plentiful, but their use cases are meant to optimize links for social sharing or CTR.

Sniply is different - it's neither a landing page builder, nor a social media management tool, nor a URL shortener, but a CRO tool. Its primary use case is to maximize the conversions you get from your social media content, specifically the third-party content you share on your feed.

The bigger problem we had was communicating its value. Sniply often gets called a URL or link shortener like Bitly, but that’s not strictly speaking the case. If anything, Sniply is more of a conversion rate optimization (CRO) tool, but not many other CRO tools work the way Sniply does.

Ironically, Sniply's selling point is also the biggest obstacle to its marketing. It has such a unique value proposition that it's difficult to explain to people why it's useful unless they understand content marketing best practices and why they work.

That’s why content marketing became so important to our marketing strategy, we had to come up with use cases for maximizing your conversions from curated content and offer Sniply as a solution.

Describe the process of launching your tool.

The original plan was to get the resources they needed from VC funding, and they applied for the YCombinator startup accelerator in Silicon Valley, California. One of their first blog posts was about how they applied and made it through the first round of interviews.

They ended up getting rejected, which is when they decide to bootstrap and make Sniply successful on their terms.

The original team started Sniply with a clear vision and strong positioning. As time went on though, it became apparent that they couldn't build a CRO tool off a single-use case, and that to maintain their positioning they had to expand the scope of their vision and build more features into the app.

They introduced multiple-CTA types. They added link tracking and link management features so you can get a top-level view of what combination of messaging, URLs, and CTA types work best. They added support for custom URLs. They built integrations with popular apps like Hootsuite and Buffer.

The original team also had to pay attention to changes in the content marketing space and pivot accordingly. When Google introduced Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in 2018, it followed suit by offering free pieces of software to help developers optimize for them.

After Sniply launched in 2014, it measured its success in the accumulated clicks its CTA buttons generated. The first milestone was 1 million clicks. Then 10 million. Then 50 million. By 2016 Sniply CTA buttons had reached a total of 100 million clicks! In total, Sniply links were viewed 831 times and our CTA buttons have been clicked 30 million times.

They grew their user base to 550 paying customers and 3,500 monthly active users. Then, in 2020, Sniply was acquired by SaaS.group and the founders moved on to other projects. That’s when I joined the team.

The pathway to success you envision when you first start may not necessarily be the only one.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We’ve experimented with social media ads in the past, but by far our biggest source of lead generation has been our inbound marketing efforts - namely the Sniply blog content that we share on our Twitter.

The Sniply blog mostly offers thought leadership about the content marketing space, but we also include a mix of top-of-funnel SEO content with the odd company update or milestone celebration mixed in. I think why this has worked so well is that the thinking behind Sniply is a little controversial. A few media outlets have criticized Sniply on ethical concerns for being used to steal other people’s traffic. These claims are inaccurate and demonstrate a lack of understanding of how Sniply works, but the buzz does get people talking.

Moreover, once people started reading the blog and sharing our posts, word-of-mouth started getting around. Marketers felt that by sharing content from competitors and other brands they were dumping their traffic into a hole. When they used Sniply they got all that traffic and revenue back and maximized their ROI.

Sniply is a good tool that solves a specific but very common problem. Sniply has a specific USP and there aren’t many other CRO tools or URL shorteners that do what we do. That’s been great for our positioning, it means that marketers that are losing conversions from curated content have pretty much no other choice but to come to us.

More recently, we’ve been experimenting with link-building SEO initiatives in the last year, and we’ve seen some success with that. We did a guest post outreach campaign for a while, it took a while to get results but we’ve got some big wins during the time. We’ve had link placements on some pretty high-profile blogs like Big Apple Media, Jeff Bulas, and Business.com.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Sniply is doing very well at the moment! Our user base continues to grow and our recent outreach initiatives and changes to our content strategy have gotten more eyeballs on the brand.

The core team currently consists of 1 CTO, 2 Senior Software Engineers, 1 DevOps Engineer, and 1 UI/UX Designer.

We plan on shipping a completely new version of Sniply, with a new UI and with a much better user experience. We are also improving the brand identity. We expect Sniply to grow more than it before, in the second half of this year.

One of the big changes we made this year was website migration. We changed the domain name, consolidated our blog content, fine-tuned the messaging in our copy, and updated our website branding with a new look.

Sniply is a top-notch tool for marketers. We figured it was time to get our marketing in order.

Sniply still has challenges that we are working on solving when it comes to content that cannot be framed. I think tools that use this type of technology (iframes) will have to adapt and come up with better ways of parsing third-party content, but at the same time allow the original content creator to benefit from this exposure, creating a fair ecosystem for everyone involved.

We have already taken steps towards this direction, with the launch of our beta feature: Sniply Summary, which summarizes the content of a page, and instead of framing the original page, we allow our users to share a beautifully designed, AI-generated piece of summary on the content that they are trying to share. We already see great interest and positive feedback on this and I think it could very well be a new vertical of Sniply.

What concerns other URL-shortener types of products, we believe that to secure the spot in a future top list of CRO tools, the best analytics dashboard, that provides the most relevant information at a glance, with the least amount of friction, will be required. Nowadays we have more data on our hands than ever. The most important part is making sure that our users can get great actionable insights from it.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Our blog content was what helped Sniply become known in the marketing space, but it wasn’t just that we put out content. We made unique content that people could only get from us.

Rather than write about the same stuff that every other SaaS blog talks about, we doubled down on thought leadership interviews and discussions that were related to Sniply’s USP. Some of our earlier posts about the YCombinator interviews helped get us traction too.

From this, I can offer this wisdom: have a clear understanding of what your strengths are, and leverage them.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our website is built in WordPress CMS. Since inbound marketing is such a core part of our growth strategy we use SEO tools like AHrefs and Google Search Console practically every day. We also use Metabase, Intercom, and ChurnKey fairly often.

We dabble in digital advertising as well to amplify our content efforts. When we dabble in PPC advertising SEMRush is super important for that.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss teaches you the fundamentals - everything you need to know about the art and science of being an entrepreneur. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber breaks down the most common mistakes most business owners make when they’re first starting, and how you can avoid them. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a great resource for anyone interested in the social and relationship-building aspect of marketing.

I consider these three books to be required reading for every entrepreneur.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Entrepreneurship is a rough road, and the road to success is paved with failure. Few become truly successful, and we’re fortunate enough to be one of the ones that made it happen.

I mostly attribute the success of the original Sniply team to seeing a need that needed to be filled, then filling it. More than that though, they weren’t afraid to find new strategies and adapt to them when their original plans didn’t work out (like with YCombinator).

The pathway to success you envision when you first start may not necessarily be the only one.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you’re interested in Sniply, want to learn more, or try it out for yourself, you can follow us at the links below:

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Matt Bentley, Marketing Lead of Sniply
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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