How to get on Webinars (with Anton Shulke)

C: On today’s podcast, I have Anton Shulke, from SEMrush. I’m sure many of you guys know Anton. He’s the guy that does everything in the background with SEMrush webinars and everything else. So, Anton, thank you for taking the time to come onto the podcast.

A: Thanks, Craig, for having me. Thank you.

Getting started with Webinars

C: I think we’ll have an interesting conversation about how to get started with webinars and all that stuff, but we’ll start off just with a bit about yourself. Obviously you’re working for SEMrush at present. Previously, where we met, you were doing the other podcast for, what was the name of the other company that you used to do the podcast for?

A: Yeah, it’s called WebPromo, a local Ukrainian company.

C: So, yeah, you did that for a while, and then you went on to join SEMrush.

A: Yeah, I’ve done a year or two, always at WebPromo, because they’ve done a lot of webinars in Russia for the Ukrainian market, and they actually succeeded very well, and it was their business model – lead generation. They thought they can easily replicate it for the western world. That’s why they employed me but it didn’t really work because they didn’t have a product. So guys if you want to do a webinar before doing any webinar series or webinar movement, before doing it think about it. If you don’t have a product, just why would you do webinars?

A: So after that SEMrush asked me, Fernando, in particular, to go to SEMrush and to work with SEMrush webinars, which I am doing for over three years now.

C: Three years. It’s been a quick three years actually. I think I remember when you first went to SEMrush. It doesn’t seem that long ago but you’ve done literally hundreds of webinars in that period of time and I think you’ve taken the SEMrush webinars to the next level in terms of your contacts and everything else that you put together.

C: Obviously you know lots of people in the industry and you’re able to get them onto the webinars and stuff like that. Is having those contacts the key part of doing webinars?

SEMrush Webinars

A: SEMrush is a big company, a big name in a niche industry. So it’s very easy for me to call almost anyone than if when you work for an unknown company. It’s established and many people know about it. What I’m trying to push is so easy for an expert like you, Craig. You’ve done about 40, 50 webinars with us. So easy for an expert who does his or her stuff for 10, 15, 20 years to get on a webinar, especially if it’s a panel discussion or as a panellist because you know your stuff. For you it’s, what? One hour of your life and I will give you exposure and transcript and everything. So we please people a lot with that. This is a very big part of the webinar.

A: We try to build a community and it’s not only our listeners, our watchers, but it’s also our speakers, community for our speakers so it’s kind of a double tier community. Yeah, I think SEMrush gain a lot because not only webinars, with webinars as well, we try to convert our speakers into a brand advocate. Yeah, I’m pretty sure SEMrush really get a lot from that.

Using a leading brand for mutual benefit and exposure

C: Yeah, I think it works well for both parties. As you know with me, SEMrush have given me a massive platform in taking my own personal brand to the next level by just appearing on webinars and everything else. They’ve helped me speak at conferences, they’ve done a lot for me. So, I think for anyone looking to become a speaker or become a brand, it’s certainly a great option and quite an easy one, because I think SEMrush is always looking for fresh people, new faces and stuff like that.

A: We are not looking for fresh faces only for the sake of fresh faces. Of course, we are looking for great and good speakers, we are also looking for people who want to work with us. Because as you said, many people would like to but we might have differences. When I said, “Okay, do you want to do a webinar with us?” And someone said, “Yeah I might. Will you pay?” No, we don’t pay. Basically we don’t pay. And say, “Okay. Yeah okay, I’ll do that but I don’t know and I’m not really sure.” So basically, we try to avoid to work with people who don’t see the value.

A: I think it’s value for almost everybody. Even if you’re very, very big and everything but not everyone sees you this way, and we don’t really push at people and say, “Yeah, yeah please do. Please do a webinar with us.” Because I’ve done that a few times and it never really worked out well. I’ll only be sure to work with people who see the value for both of us. And we work with these people. It’s why we work with you a lot, for example.

Are webinars valuable?

C: Yeah. I think the people that see the value, I’ve seen the likes of Jason Barnard, Ross Tavendale spend a fair bit of time doing stuff with SEMrush, and it’s massively valuable to them as well. So it’s not as if I’m a one-off case where it’s been valuable for me. Anyone who puts the time and effort in sees massive value from it and gets massive exposure.

C: It’s a question I’m asked often actually. People say, “How did you get into SEMrush? How did that work?” And as I say, it’s relatively easy if you’ve got knowledge and experience but obviously, I always tell people the stories about you personally. About the backgrounds, the lights, the microphone, and all of the other stuff that you’re looking for.

A: Yeah, it’s kind of a joke about the industry about all these lights and everything. If the light is okay then the speaker is okay, the content doesn’t matter. Which is not exactly what is right but we always try to make it perfect. Especially during a test because if something is not perfect on a test, we’re looking for disaster on a webinar itself.

What’s expected of you on a webinar?

C: So, I think, you’ve got to make it perfect and I think you’ve definitely got high standards. I’ve heard you say to me, “Your background’s shit, your lighting’s shit.” And it helps me improve the quality of the webinars that I was on and I think that’s massive. So, obviously you’re a big advocate of getting good lights, good backgrounds, good microphones.

A: If you’re watching something, or you’re listening to something, for example, you’re listening to a podcast, like right now, for instance, you’re using some kind of special software I’ve never heard about. But it’s always to make. sure that the call is good. If the quality isn’t good, I have to. try and hear every single word so would I listed to that?

A: How many podcasts are on the market? Thousands. The same with the webinar. I wouldn’t watch the webinar if you cannot see anything or even worse, if you cannot hear anything. So of course, some kind of standard of quality is massively important. Well with the question of, how important to make a TV picture?

A: Maybe it’s not that important and it’s very, very difficult to achieve. The reason doing a. webinar is easy is because our speakers are doing it from their office or home, and sometimes even from a hotel. And obviously, it will be completed if you have to deliver them to your studio, even SEMrush has offices basically on almost all continents, except for Africa. But if we would have to deliver everyone to Boston, for example, it would be extremely expensive and difficult.

C: Yeah.

A: So, yeah obviously we go, “Okay, okay, we’ll do it online but try to get a good line, good connection and everything. Try not to have rubbish pictures behind you where you want to shoot your live webinar.

A: It happened. It happened with a big name, believe me.

C: No, I’ve seen it a few times and I’ve been there and seen you going, “You have to fix that in the background.” It’s crazy and I know you’ve got funny stories. Again, I’ll not name any names but there are certain people who don’t want to come on camera on a webinar.

A: Yeah, for example, I have a big name and it’s was actually not a webinar it was a kind of online conference, where timing is much, much more important. So a guy had 25 minutes to present and it took him 7 minutes to share the screen. So it was just a complete disaster. We managed. We managed, we put something else but it was just a complete disaster after that and every single test I ask people to share their screen a few times so they know how to do it.

Funny Situations on Webinars

A: You had the same. You had one guest, I won’t tell the name, and he didn’t switch his camera on. I had the same. He’s a very, very big name, I don’t want to say. He said, “Oh you know what? I’m in hotel and the connection is not good here.” Many funny things, or maybe not so much for me, at that time.

Are webinars stressful?

C: Yeah, you obviously get quite stressed, as I was stressed. The particular webinar that I did with a person who wouldn’t come on camera, he was also 15 minutes late. There is nothing worse than organizing a webinar, getting everyone to subscribe, and then people let you down or make you feel like they’re going to not turn up. And obviously that’s why I 100% get it when you’re saying, “Be there 15 minutes beforehand.” And if you’re not there 15 minutes beforehand, your phone and your Facebook and everything starts asking messages. So I know you get quite stressed out.

A: Yeah, it’s extremely stressful. You’re sitting here in a webinar room, nobody here and you keep thinking what you’re going to do in 10 minutes.  It’s not. a podcast, something you can put online tomorrow. It’s live. I think my personal record was I when I had 1031 people live at the same time. It was with Larry Kim. 1000 people waiting. That doesn’t happen every time, but usually there are. around 100 waiting. If I don’t have a speaker for those 100 people, it’s a disaster.

C: Yeah, it’s not fun. Not fun at all. Has there ever been a time where the speaker hasn’t turned up?

A: Well, I had one speaker in a traffic jam I had to cancel the webinar.

C: Jeez. I know that I’ve had a few issues along the way with webinars, where I’ve been cut off halfway through a webinar because of a crappy hotel internet connection and a few other various bits and bobs that I’ve done, like the one with David Ivanoff, where I spoke for the first three minutes, just chatting garbage to David. I didn’t realize we were live on air and things like that.

A: No, that’s not too bad because people in real life just have to really make jokes about you. So it was kind of fun, yeah.

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened on a webinar?

C: Yeah, but what is the funniest thing that you’ve seen happen on a webinar?

A: I have to really think about the funniest thing, can’t just remember. I think maybe the same webinar with David, when your connection was just completely broke. We had Julie Joyce and she was doing a long series on link building, and actually, even I told her this many times, to mute the YouTube link. Because always you’re doing it on different software but you still can watch it on YouTube as it is different sometimes but there are seconds between what’s in the webinar room, 10 or 15 seconds, and what’s on YouTube. So what did she do? She had an amplifier, not headphones, which is a bad idea.

A: So she had her amplifier and she had a microphone. So what did she do? She forgot to switch off the YouTube link, so she said, “Hello.” So 10 seconds later, from YouTube on amplifier, Julie Joyce, hello. So microphone picking it up and we hear it in the the webinar room, “Hello.” So 10 seconds later it’s again, hello. So it’s a loop. This loop will never, never obviously stop and she doesn’t know what to do. That was very funny. It goes for three minutes or so and nobody really knows what to do about it. I tried to make sure to mute your YouTube. So she eventually muted YouTube, and it stopped. It wasn’t very funny for her, I have to say.

C: Yeah, no I can imagine that must be … I’ve actually done that myself before where I’ve been on a webinar and I wasn’t aware of the YouTube thing, and I could hear myself talking back, and it kind of throws you off when you can start to hear yourself while you’re trying to talk. It’s very off-putting and quite stressful when you’re live on camera and you’re like, “What the hell?” But yeah, it’s all part of the fun and games.

A: Yeah but this is part of all live things. Obviously you will polish. So for example, during this podcast we already had software crashing once, and for someone who doesn’t know this, it will be reasonably polished. With all the live stuff, you cannot do anything. Live is live. Okay, I have another funny story. I think I had Nick Wilsdon and Google’s Andre Le. Andre is a very serious guy, for Google. So basically, he was preparing his presentation and everything. He switched off his phone so he wasn’t reachable.

A: He’s doing a presentation. During the first seconds, he got disconnected, but he didn’t know it. He was on a full-screen mode, he moved through his slides. I tried to call him, I tried to message, I tried to do everything but he didn’t reply because he switched off everything off because he is a serious man.

A: So, what we doing, is all live, so Andre and Nick Wilsdon, they were there as a panel. But our speaker disappeared. They’re professionals, they’re great people, they just start talking. So they were talking for 15 minutes and Andre finishes his presentation and he switches his phone on and he saw I was calling him like 10000 times and he said, “What happened?” I said, “You were disconnected, so all the while you were talking to your own screen.” So yeah, it was funny but he managed to join at last because it was not a webinar. It was a conference so the timing was very short. So he managed to join in the last five minutes to apologize. It wasn’t his fault but it was funny.

C: Yeah, there’s always funny stories. That’s what I like about webinars and stuff.

A: Yeah, if you don’t laugh, if there is no humor, it’s a dead webinar because you can learn a lot but if it’s fun, it’s much easier and everything. It’s why we introduced a different form of webinar. Go away from this old-style, what we call boring, boring webinar, when someone comes and does a presentation 45 minutes all just full of slides. Everybody is asleep in half an hour if it’s like that.

How to get on a SEMrush Webinar?

C: Yeah. Yeah you can see the people dropping off. Even sometimes when we do webinars now, if the subject’s not important or interesting, sometimes you see the people dropping off. But, in terms of going forward with SEMrush, if other people are looking to get involved with webinars and stuff like that what would be your advice? If I’ve got someone saying, “How do I get on a SEMrush webinar?” Is it a case of just reaching out to you guys saying, “I want to work with you.” Or do you look for people? How does it work?

A: I think it works more with the same in the whole industry. The same is if I want someone on my webinar, I think the easiest way would be, I go through someone’s recommendation. So if someone who works with Craig Campbell for example, or many others will drop me a line we can do. something. Yeah, this would be the easiest way to do that. Another way to do it is much more difficult and hard. For example, our blog, the SEMrush blog works with self-submissions. So you can actually submit your post. Well, if you submit your post doesn’t mean it will be published but you can submit it. You submit your post, after that it go through Alex and Melissa, which is not easy, believe me. Well, you know that. It’s not easy to pass them. If your stuff is good or could be good eventually, and it’s published, for me it’s a green card so you’re good. You’re good, you’re published and you can be on the webinar.

A: My blog is easier in a way because it’s not live, obviously have the time, they can read your stuff. They can see if you’re good, you’re not good and everything. With a live webinar, it’s much more difficult. It’s difficult for me to put someone I never heard talking. So, local people would be another way to get into the webinar system or via a recommendation.

C: Interesting. So out with the webinar thing and everything else, I think something that you’ve got, that I find is really strong and good value is your connection with all of the right people. How did you do that? How did that build up? Because obviously if you want, for example, Bill Slawski or Larry Kim on there, you can quite easily make that happen. How did that all come to be?

A: Well, it’s not that easy sometimes. I wrote to Bill Slawski once I think was on Hangouts messenger and he didn’t switch it off and it was 5AM at the place where he’s living. So I woke him up and he was quite upset. So sometimes you do upset people. Also, I remember upsetting Larry Kim with one image and he actually banned me on Facebook for a year but now we’re all friends of course.

How to make friends with industry experts?

A: Well, how to make friends. My goal is very simple. I try to treat everyone the way I want to be treated.

C: Yeah. As I say, I think that’s what one of your strengths. You do seem to make friends in a lot of places and obviously, you went to Amsterdam last week as well, or the week before, and you’re out there networking and making friends in person. Because for many years, you were the guy that no-one had ever actually met. So everyone had done tons of webinars with you but hadn’t physically actually met you as a person. So, how are you enjoying going out to different events now as well?

A: Yes, it’s a very different experience and very new. I only start doing this at VCS or SEMrush. I saw the value of sending me to these kinds of events. It’s a completely different feeling. Yes, it really helps obviously. One personal talk, one beer with someone or one coffee with someone, it’s like, I don’t know, five webinars.

C: Yeah. I think it’s much more useful. I can do better webinars with Ross Tavendale for example, because we are friends and we’ve had beers and we know how each other works, and you can make jokes. Where, sometimes if you’ve not met the person, you cannot be 100% comfortable. So, I think it’s always good to network and meet the people face-to-face. I think, again, it just adds value to the webinar. It’s a bit more relaxed and everything like that. Has there ever been a person that you’ve done a webinar with and then you’ve met them in real life and you felt like, oh you’re completely different to what you’ve seen on a webinar?

A: Well yeah, it’s as I mentioned. Appearance yes, because you don’t see how tall, or how small, or big. In terms of for example you done webinar and you think, oh that person is great. You meet him or her and oh nah, this person is awful. No, that never really happened to be honest.

C: I was curious to know if you met someone that you thought was really funny or something and then you met them in real life and they were really quiet or something like that.

A: No, and I think it’s because people are usually camera shy and less shy in real life. That is, unless you’re Jason Barnard, of course. He can do it for the Olympics, on camera, without camera, anywhere. But otherwise, most of the people on the camera, they’re slightly less animated. So, in real-life, especially after couple of beers … they’re more relaxed. I’ve never met anyone who is absolutely animated on a webinar and very, very, very quiet sitting in the corner in the real life. Never have but maybe one day.

C: Maybe one day, I’m sure there’s a few guys out there that you’ve still to come across, that are going to be either really quite in the webinar and absolutely crazy in real life, or vice versa.

A: As I said, this is possible because a lot of people, when they see camera and when they realize it’s all live, they became a bit tense, yeah.

Acceptable to drink beer on a live webinar?

A: I have a funny story.  I had on my webinar people drinking beer, for example, and it wasn’t pre-agreed. I can’t tell the name but she came for the conference with a bottle of beer. And because it was from UK and she said, “Oh in the UK it’s a …” I think it was Friday night. She said, “It’s already Friday and that’s why I’m drinking beer and doing a presentation.” I also have people drinking beer from coffee mugs. I knew they’re drinking beer because they told me and they find it kind of funny. So they’re drinking beer whilst it looks like a coffee.

C: Was that actually on SEMrush though, or was that previous on the WebPromo?

A: Okay, the first one was a bottle of beer, it was on WebPromo. But I did have people drinking beer on a SEMrush webinar from coffee mugs and they told me on Messenger, “I’m drinking beer now.”

C: Yeah, it’s interesting. I also remember a funny story and I’m going to actually name this person because it was very funny and I’m sure they don’t mind. But we had one of Joel Bondorowski’s first ever webinars and he was sitting there with a shirt on and his hair all fixed, and all that kind of stuff. Then I think you said to him, “Can you move your kids toys in the background?” Or something. And he stood up, and he had a pair of boxer shorts on with his shirt. So I think when you’re doing webinars and you only see the top half of a person, you really don’t know what else is going on underneath or round about. It’s crazy. But the one with Joel in his boxer shorts was really funny.

A: Yeah it was funny because it was absolutely unexpected. Because I don’t think it was a hot where we were. But in Tel Aviv it’s hot.

C: Yeah, always hot in Tel Aviv but it’s just funny, the fact that he was sitting there with his shirt on, as if he was all business-like. But yeah, I found that one very funny. But I’ve had a few funny experiences on webinars in the past. I’ve also had people texting me, WhatsApping me, Facebooking me while I’m on a webinar, trying to disturb me as well. So, I would always say to people, “Make sure that if you’ve got MacBook or something with your emails and Facebook and everything’s all connected, just make sure that you close that stuff down because I’ve got a lot of friends like Andy Drinkwater, who like to start ringing your phone and stuff while you’re live on a webinar to put you off because they just want to see a funny reaction online, which is never good.

A: It’s a very good idea but as I mentioned, and this is a Google webinar, sometimes you do need some maybe secret channel of communication to tell, “Hey, mate you’re cut off, so you’re talking to your screen. Nobody can see you.”

Best Webinar Platform, now Google Hangouts has gone?

C: Yeah. Another thing I want to talk to you about is the webinar software. Obviously in the past couple of Months Google Hangouts had died and that’s the platform that we have all used for many years now. How are you finding Crowdcast and everything else? What was the change like? Was that stressful?

A: It is still stressful, still takes so much … it is so much pain. We are talking with some other company. But the problem is, all the software. I thought Hangouts was horrible software but now, when it’s dead, it think it was beautiful, beautiful software. YouTube, please get it back. This is kind of very strange thing. YouTube replaced or stopped supporting Hangouts and they offer something which is completely different, which can’t be used the same way. So, for example, the webcam was the offer. It’s only basically for one person, you can’t even share a screen. So it’s for kind of bloggers who, I don’t know, show you how a telephone works or these kinds of things for live stream.

A: So, we use Crowdcast now, it’s pretty big and I’m not saying they’re bad software. They’re not designed for us. We are a big company, we have everything done. Our registration system, our admin system, everything. We just need a streamer and we still want to stay on YouTube because YouTube is YouTube. YouTube is a very, very big source of everything for us. So we don’t want to stream it on YouTube. So we basically need a streamer and most of this webinar software, they offer you absolutely everything. We don’t need it. We already have everything. It’s homemade, but we do have plenty of developers. So for us, it’s a real big issue.

C: Yeah, it is. I’ve found it painful. I hate Crowdcast. I love Google Hangouts. As you say, didn’t really appreciate it at the time.

A: I think we found something. I will show you. I can’t say the name now because we have moved so I don’t want to say. “Oh this is a good one.” Who knows?

C: Yeah. One final thing that I want to discuss with you is, obviously being on a webinar, having the right lights and all that kind of stuff’s really important. But what’s even more important is getting people onto the webinar to watch. What is your advice to people who want to start their own webinar for example? What are the key components into getting people onto a webinar?

A: Yeah okay. I won’t go and talk about get some stuff people want to hear and everything. What you have to have, if you’re going to do webinars, you have to make sure your mailing list is solid. So you have a really good or big list. If you don’t, probably you shouldn’t but saying so, you can’t get a list because you don’t have webinars. You don’t have webinars because you don’t have a list. It’s Catch 22. But if you don’t have a mailing list but you still want to go for a webinar, you would need to put some money into promotion. The way promotion works is not as good because we find out that, for example, our average attendance rate is about 35%. So I mean, a third of people who registered will attend, which is I think very high. But, if we split it and I feel we’ve got people who bringing by promotion it’s usually Facebook, paid social, rate it’s about half of it.

A: So you bring in new people, which is great. It’s a great lead generation too with some money involved obviously. But these people tend not to take it that serious, not to go and attend much less because they don’t know the webinar is good and they just register. But okay, you register, it’s on your mailing list, next time you can email these people.

Are Webinars easy on a low budget?

A: So for everyone who thinks they can just start a webinar tomorrow, it takes basically no money because it’s all cheap, and you want to start doing webinars, think again. Because if you don’t have people attending this webinar, why are you doing it? But in order to get attendees, you have to have a big, solid mailing list or spend money on advertisements.

C: So, that’s something that obviously I’m guessing that SEMrush has a massive mailing list but SEMrush are also doing a lot of paid promotion behind a lot of the stuff.

A: Yes we do both, yes.

Is email marketing the best way to get webinar signups?

C: What is the best though? I take it it’s still email marketing because a lot of people say email marketing’s dead. I know that it’s not because I’ve got a mailing list and I know it works very well but for the general public, they’re always going to say “Nah, paid Facebook’s better.” I still would always say the mailing list gets the biggest traction for me.

A: It all depends on your mailing list, obviously. If you treat your mailing list well, it works fantastic. So I don’t know, Larry Kim is brilliant, but he probably sends too many emails from my point of view, but it works for him. Some people, they think email marketing is a science, and I’m not a scientist. But some people they are saying, “Oh you have to do it very regularly.” And I agree. There are some people who say, “No, no, no. We have to do it from time to time.” I don’t agree because people tend to forget about you and when you send an email in three months time they think it’s a spam.

A: Email is still the main source for registration for things like webinars or online conferences. So if you’re doing the webinar, if you want to succeed with the webinars, sooner or later you will have to have a solid mailing list. There’s no question about that.

C: Yeah. I 100% agree with that. A solid mailing list is still working effectively for me and I probably send one or two emails a week. That’s it, I don’t over spam people or irritate them. I think just getting the balance right just so that you’re not getting drop-offs all the time, is important. And as I say, it’s worked well for me and hopefully, the podcast and everything else will continue to build my mailing list. That’s the plan, to keep growing that side of things.

A: With a podcast it’s a big question because for example, your podcast, in order to listen to your podcast, as I understood, I don’t have to register, do I?

C: No.

Get people to register for the podcast

A: So see, this is the point actually. I understand you expect it. Okay, people listen to your podcast. After that they read your blog, which they don’t have to register for. The webinar is live, they have to listen at a particular time. So, they registered and that’s how the list grows, actually. With a podcast, it’s kind of a secondary thing, yeah.

C: I think you make a very valid point. The reason I’ve not forced anyone to sign up at the moment is because it’s new and no-one knows the quality of the episodes and stuff like that. But eventually I will try and flip that so that I can continue to grow my mailing list.

A: Yeah sure, sure. You can put that people have to leave their email in order to get it to listen.

C: Yeah. So that’s the plan with the podcast but as I say, just for now, I just wanted to release 15, 20 episodes just to give people a flavour of what it’s all about and then I will hopefully be able to get people to offer value to me. Because there’s always got to be value to me at the end of the day and whether that’s an email list or whatever it may be, then, of course, that’s what I’m going to do.

C: But, that is pretty much us out of time for today. Anton, thank you very much for coming on and explaining what you guys look for in a webinar and obviously your background insights into webinars as well, and some of the problems that you encounter. I think that will help people going forward if they want to get involved in webinars.

A: Yeah, yeah, sure. Thank you very much for having me.

C: No problem. Always a pleasure.

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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

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