Public relations is moving away from the use of traditional channels—like television, newspapers, and radio–as companies adopt new “earned media” digital strategies.
For smaller brands, however, crafting and executing a digital media strategy to reach customers can be time-consuming and often involves disparate processes.
Paid advertising options have also continued to increase. The cost per mille (CPM), the price a company pays for every 1,000 impressions an ad receives, increased by 89 percent for Facebook and 108 percent for both Google and Youtube in 2021 compared to the previous year.
One Toronto-based startup claims to offer an end-to-end platform that says it functions as a direct bridge for companies looking to work with content channels to increase brand awareness.
“[AI] allowed us to develop these really great products … in days versus weeks or months in the past.”
After two years of bootstrapping, SearchEye has raised a $1-million CAD pre-seed round to scale the capabilities of its platform.
AfterWork Ventures led the round, with participation from Everywhere VC and Archangel Ventures. Angel investors Casey Winters, Roger Dickey, Alan Rutledge, and Charlie Songhurst also participated.
SearchEye said it raised this funding alongside continued revenue growth and positive cash flow. The company says it achieved a monthly revenue of $80,000 USD about 18 months after it launched, and an estimated $1 million USD in annualized revenue.
Built by co-founders Chris Porteous (CEO) and Chris Thurston (COO), SearchEye offers a marketplace system where brands can source, communicate with, and manage the publishers they plan to work with for earned links and media mentions, all in one platform.
SearchEye’s definition of a publisher reflects today’s fractured media environment, and includes any organization that creates written content for their website. Typically, these are content sites, industry blogs, and large businesses with their own blogs.
These content producers can use SearchEye to find brands that can offer additional context or insight for their content. Similar to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) for journalists, it’s designed to help content creators seeking quotes from experts or industry professionals for their stories.
SearchEye’s platform enables brands to pay for backlinks, among several other features, which can help them boost their search engine rankings. Though purchasing backlinks is a common strategy in search engine optimization (SEO) for public relations, it has also been interpreted as being against Google’s “webmaster guidelines” – which refers to the practice of purchasing backlinks as “link schemes.”
When asked how SearchEye is navigating this rule, Porteous told BetaKit that its platform allows publishers to source quotes, information, and “relevant mentions of brands” where they can choose to opt in for monetization or no transaction at all.
“It’s important to note that all connections are double opt-in. That means that publishers can accept or reject placements, as they wish,” Porteous said.
“The irony is that the more authentic the brand connection, the more a search engine would value it anyhow. So whichever way you look at it, our goal is the same as the goal of brands, publishers and search engines—to connect brands with new audiences who will resonate with what they have to say,” Porteous added.
SearchEye offers two service tiers. The free version is called 3PM Links, which sends link-building opportunities to users who sign up for this basic membership. The paid version costs $199 per month, which includes 3PM Links, as well as other features like access to SearchEye’s entire inventory of over 5,000 sites, and a 10-percent discount on all products and services, among others.
SearchEye is part of a growing industry for SEO as public-relations teams put more focus on digital strategies. Other companies that offer similar services for link-building includes Vancouver-based Loganix and United Kingdom’s iCopify.
In an interview with BetaKit, Porteous said this funding will enable SearchEye to scale much faster, allowing it to hire people and increase revenue.
After closing the round on Aug. 1, SearchEye has made three new hires, and now has a team of 11. SearchEye has also onboarded several platforms as users, including HubSpot and Vimeo, which publish online articles and run advertising on them. BlackBerry is another user.
As a principally non-AI startup in a market saturated with AI hype, raising this round came with its own set of challenges. Thurston confirmed that fundraising has been “easier in the past.”
Canadian tech companies and investors have been contending with the drought in venture-capital dollars for the past year, following the 2021 venture boom. However, the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) recently published a report that showed signs of a rebound in Q2 of this year.
Thurston said he enjoys this cycle in the market. “This is when people are really focusing on the fundamentals, and so the great businesses are the ones that are going to raise money.”
Though AI isn’t core to its offering, SearchEye noted its platform is AI-enabled. Porteous explained that the emergence of OpenAI and its capabilities is when the startup started to think about incorporating the technology.
“A lot of the work we’re doing on the marketplace side was quite manual early on,” said Porteous.
“It allowed us to develop these really great products and use algorithms in days versus weeks or months in the past,” he continued. He shared that SearchEye is working on an AI-enabled feature that can match users with the most suitable publisher or website where they should be promoting.
Though its platform currently only supports written content, SearchEye plans to expand into diverse formats such as audio, video, and social media. Porteous said this would involve connecting brands with publishers that have podcasts or social channels like Instagram and TikTok.
Featured image courtesy SearchEye.