How Buzzsumo made $2.5M in the first year - BuzzSumo for content marketing  (9 min read)

BuzzSumo – a content marketing and SEO SaaS tool that facilitates content research and discovering trending topics. They reached over $2.5 in annual revenue in the first year of operations.

?Strategy & Tools

Buzzsumo History Timeline

  • 2013 – early stage of BuzzSumo: assembling the founding team and code writing
  • March, 2014 – all three founders left their jobs to work full-time on BuzzSumo 
  • Late September, 2014 – BuzzSumo website is launched 
  • Jan 14, 2015 – “How to Handle Facebook Algorithm Changes: 17 Tips from Experts” blog post is published. In just a few months, it was shared over 3.8k times.
  • May, 2015 – the artistic rendition of a sumo character first appears in blogs at
  • June, 15, 2015 – Steve Rayson, Director at BuzzSumo, joins the Social Pros Podcast to discuss content
  • End of 2015 – BuzzSumo has over 160,000 freemium subscribers and 2,000 paying customers; the total annual revenue run rate is over $2.5m

Who founded BuzzSumo?

BuzzSumo for content marketing was founded and created by Henley Wing and James Blackwell in 2014. However, they were supported by Steve Rayson and Stephen Walsh, too.

Why is BuzzSumo successful – focus on the product

BuzzSumo is successful because its creators spent more energy on developing their product rather than marketing it. From the very start, they believed that their app would grow organically. The idea was that if the users would find value in the tool, they’d definitely recommend it to others. Developing the product became the goal that propelled the organic growth of the user base.

But that’s not the whole story.

BuzzSumo marketing strategy – influencer marketing

As early as in 2014 and throughout 2015, BuzzSumo marketing strategy was focused on presenting the product to marketing influencers.

They picked professionals who targeted specific business groups working within content creation, marketing and SEO. Influential industry names such as:

These names were engaged in promoting BuzzSumo as a useful marketing tool. The industry influencers mentioned it in their blogposts among other software, wrote extensive reviews, tweeted about it or posted on their LinkedIn blogs.

Millions of people follow the likes of Rand Fishkin or Neil Patel to get better at marketing. If they tell you that one of the tactics is using BuzzSumo for content marketing – you go do that.

Becoming industry experts

BuzzSumo founders not only used influencers to promote their product, they also tried to become influential experts themselves within the industry themselves.

For instance, in 2015 Steve Rayson, Director at BuzzSumo, was interviewed for an episode of the Social Pros Podcast. By sharing his knowledge on “Which Content Types Get the Most Social Shares” he was building the brand of his own product at the same time.

BuzzSumo marketing strategy – showing expertise

BuzzFeed literally took its own advice; as a content creation research tool, it used its blog for providing excellent content itself.

Their blog post from January 2015–only a few months after the website launch–was shared over 3.8k times within one year. Another research-based post was unique in terms of data presented and thus appealing to the audience.

By catering to its needs, the BuzzSumo website became more visible to the target group, and this increased traffic and eventually sales. 

Why is BuzzSumo successful – solid freemium products & free trials

A useful free tool is often very effective to give users a glimpse for the platform. Giving a part of BuzzSumo for content marketing for free has been profitable since the company’s early stages. Once the free version proved value for the users, they switched to the paid plans.

BuzzSumo for content marketing – original branding

A business like BuzzSumo for content marketing is based on research and data analysis. As a counterbalance to the serious business-like, analytical image of the app, the founders decided to brand it with a likeable Sumo character. He appears on the blog and website and is part of the brand identification. The character was hand rendered and developed by an  artist Kate Chesterton in December 2015 specifically for BuzzSumo. 

Constant development

The reason why Buzzsumo was succesful was because they coninued to develop the product. Trending dashboard and Facebook Analyzer were two major new developments introduced by BuzzSumo within the first financial year. According to the people running the company, it is important to innovate in order to get ahead of competition but also to retain current customers. To achieve the latter, it is also vital to continue to strengthen the core features, too. That’s what BuzzSumo marketing strategy was based on.

Word of Mouth

There’s no denying that BuzzSumo for content marketing can be highly useful to marketers. Some would then genuinely refer it to their peers or introduce it in their organizations, making it more and more popular and acting as brand advocates. 



Reciprocity Principle

By offering a freemium model, BuzzSumo gives out a subset of free features without any commitment. This means that some users who receive this tool for free may have felt indebted to BuzzSumo. They felt the need to reciprocate, e.g. by switching to a paid subscription model or at least recommending it to another industry professional.


The marketing world is a busy environment, with new content appearing every minute. BuzzSumo profits from the fear of missing out – marketers are constantly concerned with finding the latest news and trends within the industry. Thanks to its new features such as the trending dashboard or monitoring brand mentions in the content, BuzzSumo was able to attract thousands of users as early as in the very first year of operating.

Hooked model

BuzzSumo for content marketing is designed to form habits, similarly to as through the Hooked Model coined by Nir Eyal. It’s about forming a loop that motivates the user to come back to the app.

In BuzzSumo, that consists of these 4 steps:

 1. Triggers:

  • External Triggers – the user gets notifications to check what’s trending
  • Internal Triggers – the user is likely a content marketer, he wants to succeed with his content. Spotting a trend early allows him to get better results.

2. Action – The easiest to spot new trends is to check the trending dashboard.

3. Variable Reward  – It’s not guaranteed that the content inspired by BuzzSumo will get you great results, but it often can.

4. Investment – following the Ikea Effect, people perceive things as more valuable if they made them themselves. BuzzSumo inspires you, but it’s you–the marketer–who has to write the piece and distribute it to make it successful.

Social Proof

Engaging influencers to promote BuzzSumo marketing strategy was, among others, was a good move in terms of guiding customers towards the product. The focus on trustworthy industry leaders made the technique more credible.

Authority Bias

People have the tendency to attribute higher accuracy to opinions shared by authorities. The marketing influencers are perceived as authorities within the space – and many people follow their advice mindlessly.

?Window of Opportunity

BuzzSumo was marketed product-first. Yes, they reached out to influencers which probably were all highly important for the platform’s success, but the product had to be great. High profile influencers like Larry Kim or Neil Patel rarely promote something they don’t believe in, as it could be risky for their brands.

If you’ve read some of my case studies, you definitely know that focusing on the product is often the foundation for success and this is yet another example. It’s just easier this way.

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