Rand Fishkin Introduces SparkToro: Plus Marketing Lessons, SEO Tips + Plans for 2019 [Interview]

By | August 11, 2019


Hey guys I’m Alex and I’m Head of Copy at
Paperclip Digital and today I’ll be sitting down with entrepreneur, author
and digital marketing expert Rand Fishkin. As founder of SparkToro and
previously co-founder of Moz and Inbound.org, Rand has devoted his
professional life to helping people master their own marketing. Now I’m
really excited to sit down with Rand and share his insights with you today as we
chat about: how to sustainably grow your business, how he plans to solve a problem
that ALL marketers face, his exciting new business venture and so much more! Let’s
get right to it. All right Rand thank you so much for chatting with us at
Paperclip today. Yeah my pleasure Alex, thanks for having me. Now you are
extremely well known in the SEO industry, you’ve achieved a lot, you are doing a
lot, there’s a lot of questions I know Aussie businesses want to know, our
clients want to know, but before we get to any of that there’s something I
personally need to know. And it is about moustache care. Because you are – all right – well known for moustache care. What is the secret to keeping your facial hair
looking slick and professional in the industry? Oh gosh I’m not totally
sure I know the answer to that. I mean when I had that ridiculous long moustache
I had to use moustache wax. I used beer brand, this pretty high intensity
stuff, and I don’t know it smelled nice! But on humid days it was still a
nightmare yeah. What motivated you to have the, sort of extra, why were you
going the extra yard? Oh god it was a terrible…dare slash bet. My
last few months as CEO of Moz I told the team that I would grow my moustache out
until we got back to being profitable, right? Which I thought was three to six
months away. And when I stepped down as CEO the new CEO who came in, Sarah,
decided that profitability was not one of her priorities and so I kept that
moustache for almost three years, three and a half years until you know,
unfortunately we had a very painful round of layoffs in, what was that,
summer of 2016 and then I didn’t shave it until I
think our first, we had a quarter of profitability like NovemberDecember
January, end of 2016 start of 2017, so then I finally got to shave it. Wow three, at least that’s some commitment, at least you stuck it out. I struggled to
even get my moustache through. The beard I’ve got no problem with, but the
moustache is ahh it eludes me. I wouldn’t wouldn’t do it again. Well at least at least you tried it once! Now we’ve discussed the important stuff
so if this interview goes nowhere else I feel like I’ve I’ve got something out of
it, value has been provided here today. It’s all about front loading your content with value and we’ve certainly been, uh, we’ve certainly done that. But I want to take you back in time, it’s 2004, Facebook has just launched,
Athens Olympics, the world is a very different place. You and your Mom are
about to create what will later become the global software brand Moz, can you
give our audience a bit of an insight into what those early years were like?
What obstacles really stood in the way of getting that off the ground? I
mean an immense lack of maturity, I don’t think, you know I was in my early 20s, I
don’t think I…I did not understand much about building, you know, never mind a
software company just a company at all and we, you know, we were not particularly
ambitious at that time, we were mostly just focused on how do we keep the
lights on, how do we get some customers, yeah how do we how do we make it through the days. So I think probably our biggest struggles were just finding customers
and then finding customers who would actually pay their bills, we were yeah having a hard time back then. Yeah, no that makes sense and I think that that
ties into the problem that, or a problem that, a lot of Aussie businesses have, the
sort of ‘finding their customers’ and ‘figuring out where they exist in the
landscape’, are there any core lessons you learn from that, that you’d be able to
share, that our audience could say ‘you know what that’s that’s gonna help me
move forward?’ It’s pretty tough to apply, you know, how business
discoverability worked in 2004 right, yeah, and very different to 2018, I mean
it’s just an incredibly different landscape but you know,
I think one of the principles certainly that I would have is that we started
spending money, even then early on, thinking that we needed, we needed to
look big, we needed to look professional, we needed to have nice office space, we
needed to have a, you know, a substantive staff, we needed to look like an agency
that could compete and deliver results. That was that was all crap. You know that
that window dressing was largely useless, I think it meant that we went deep into
debt before we ever proved our value and and turned out nobody cared and, and
people care even less today right, if you’re, if your business is you and your
basement that’s great, if you can, if you can deliver good results there’s no
reason for you to have expensive rent or you know, staff that’s not doing anything
actively, waiting, sort of waiting on retainer to to get work going, yeah it’s a, it’s a
much more ‘on demand world’ and I think that being frugal at the start of a
business is a really wise thing. Well that’s yeah, that’s excellent advice, I
want to stick with Moz but move forward in the chronology slightly, you
are responsible for designing a range of SEO tools that myself and other SEOs
use, do you have a favourite that you sort of designed along the way that stands out,
is like ‘you know what that one, that’s the gold standard for me’, yeah I mean I
still, I still love and use Keyword Explorer all the time, so you know I
think the design process for that, the building process was a little haphazard.
It was sort of like okay Rand you can have you know these, these three
developers and this designer part-time, as long as you don’t conflict with their
other obligations to the business you know, you can have them do what you want, and yeah I think we we put out a tool that is just second to none in terms of
the quality of the metrics there, you know the volume numbers which it’s sort
of a, we, Moz buys data from Jumpshot which is a clickstream provider and then
builds kind of an estimation system that’s modeled off of real data from
Adwords impressions, right, and then that’s what
you see inside Keyword Explorer so you know there’s like, it has very high confidence,
you can have very high confidence when it says this search query gets 50 to 100
searches per month, you can feel confident that yes in the last whatever
it is you know I think it’s six months or 12 months, that is the average number
of searches that were performed for that query and same with organic
click-through-rate, right, it tries to estimate what percent of searchers will
actually click on an organic listing for this keyword, you know it provides a
level of difficulty and that’s, that’s using DA and PA modeled against whatever actually comes up in the search results and sort of saying how difficult would
it be to rank in the organic results for this term or phrase, oh it’s yeah it’s
just, it’s a good tool and the, the keyword suggestions I think are the most
robust of any tool out there. Most the other ones just scrape Adwords or
scrape Google Suggest but, but Keyword Explorer is much broader,
has a bunch of different ways to suggest variables so that you know, I think I
wish Moz invested in it more and sort of put more things into it, but yeah it’s
that’s, that, that’s the tool that I still use, so I’m kind of proud of that one. Was
that, where you inspired to sort of make that and design that because there was a
lack of similar tools in the market or there were a lot, but nothing was doing the job?
Yeah I mean I think that most of the tools that existed before that were kind
of like basic, just suggestion scraper tools right, I think Ubersuggests
which was bought by Neil Patel like right, i think right after we launched
Keyword Explorer, tools like that were pretty much all that was in the market
other than Adwords and I thought, that is so strange, you know keyword research is
at the core of SEO work this is absolutely essential to, you know, to
being able to put together a good campaign SEMrush obviously was very
popular especially with paid search folks because it had a lot of paid
search data, but it was it was very paid search biased right? If a term, if a
search term wasn’t suggested by Google AdWords, meaning it had some commercial intent behind it, you know they wouldn’t show it to you in, in, AdWords and
therefore it wouldn’t be on SEMrush either and and so you know Moz Keyword Explorer was trying to fix that fundamental problem. That’s a fascinating
insight because I as much as I love using these tools, I don’t have the mind to
just sort of figure out how to put them together, I’m just not built that way, so
to hear you explain where it comes from and where it is…I bet, I bet you’re
wrong about that, like my experience has always been that if I talk to smart,
savvy SEOs who use the tools and then kind of you know, we spend a few days
thinking in a product mindset you can you can quickly shift your thinking, so
don’t sell yourself short Alex. I, I bet you could, you could be a great product
designer. I appreciate that mate, but on that, I guess still sticking with Moz tools
my, I use the Moz bar all the time for the competitive, competitiveness excuse
me, of a query, competitor sort of analysis, backlinks, it really simplifies
SEO, and I think that’s another problem a lot of our clients and Aussie
businesses have an issue with, that SEO can seem very confronting when you don’t
know much about it, can seem like this other language shrouded in this fog, what
would you say to business owners who are on the fence about SEO in 2019? Do you
still need it? Should they understand it? I think there is this core period from
like maybe, you know, 2008 to about 2016, maybe 2015, where I think you know every
business just had to be super super savvy about SEO in order to be
competitive in their space, and you know granted there are plenty that exist that were not but I think if you wanted to stand out that was like the
‘golden age’ for earning search traffic, you know the competition was tough but
not nearly as tough as it is today, because far fewer people were investing
in SEO and the, you know, search volume was huge, it was growing at a crazy clip,
you know the use of search engines by folks, in in the developed world at least,
was increasing exponentially every year and then we sort of hit this plateau
where it was like ‘okay you know nearly everyone in the developed world who’s
going to be an Internet user is now an Internet user’, you all have, you know
mobile phones and devices and and desktops and laptops all around us
all the time, search has kind of plateaued. I mean it’s 50 times bigger
than it was 10 years ago, maybe more than that, but it has plateaued in terms of
growth. Competition keeps heating up because more and more business owners
hear about SEO and and are like “oh I should, I should invest in that” right? And
business owners as a cohort are younger and savvier about Digital Marketing and
technology so all these things happen, but I would say in 2019 you, you should
be aware of SEO, you should learn about it, and you should compare it against
other channels that can bring you business. It is not necessarily the only
one or the best one, but in many, many cases it is a channel you should be
considering…at least you should be actively evaluating it and deciding ‘No
that’s not our highest ROI opportunity, I’m gonna do something else’ rather than
just ignoring it and not thinking. Well that kind of naturally leads to my next
question, you’ve said in the past that you think a sort of over reliance
on Google Ads and Facebook Ads is this sort of duopoly that stifles marketing
creativity. Would it be fair to say you’re, you’re an advocate of an
omni-channel approach? You think businesses should really figure out a
multitude of ways that they can reach their, their consumers? I, mostly yes, with
the caveat that if you if you have very little time with very few dollars, you
know, very little effort to expend on marketing, I think it’s fair for a small
business to say ‘Hey, let’s go invest in only one or two channels that we’re
really good at’. I think what’s not great is to make those one or two channels
Google and Facebook Ads because they are extraordinarily expensive, everybody else
is already throwing dollars at them because they’re relatively easy to get
started, and those, those channels are well-known and there’s a lot of players
there. And there’s a ton of, you know, venture and growth equity and private
equity dollars that are seeking GROWTH not profitability from those channels,
chances are really high that you are going to struggle to have a competitive
advantage in, in, marketing if all you’re doing is throwing dollars at
Facebook and Google. I suspect I might know the answer to the next question because I’ve done a bit of research on it but, your opinions on Voice Search.
Is it the next big thing or is it overblown, as far as SEO is concerned? I
mean, so first off I want to separate two things. Voice Search is different than
Voice Answers right? So a lot of people are like “oh my god voice search is huge,
I see my kids talking to their, you know, to the phone all the time” and “I see
people asking their phone questions”, yes I agree…are they getting a screen of
answers or are they getting a machine to speak the answer back to them? If the
answer is the first one I don’t see what the difference is versus typing. There’s
no difference to me right, if you, if you type a query into Google or you speak a
query into Google and you get back a screen of results and you can choose
from those results there is no difference, Voice Search is
meaningless. However we are talking about Voice
Answers right, Alexa, Google Home, Siri and and it’s just a spoken answer back to
you that removes all the opportunity from search, right, essentially maybe at
some point in the future there could be some attribution model that these
players will offer, but right now it’s nothing right, they’re just reading the
answer off of the featured snippet or, or, providing, you know, whatever Alexa’s
answer is to the query that you’re asking. I think we don’t know enough to
know whether that’s cannibalising search yet but the answer appears to be ‘no
probably not’. Screen of results searches seem to be relatively immune in terms of, you know, their growth and plateauing that the line has not changed much in
the last four or five years as voice answers have become a thing, so it looks
like it’s just a different kind of search. Do you use voice search much? I
never do. Almost never, with the caveat that sometimes I’ll try it out just to
see what see what the search engines are doing, but yeah just to see how it works.
Well I want to stick with SEO for one more question before we move, move past Moz and move into the exciting SparkToro future, I’m gonna lean on an old
nickname of yours, you’re the ‘Wizard of Moz’, previously the ‘Wizard of Oz’, if you
could wave a wand and change Google’s algorithm in any way, what would you
change about the way they, they currently work and rank? I would do two things. One – I would try and make it more fair and equitable. Right now Google’s algorithm
strongly favours Google’s own property so if you do a local search it wants to
show you Google Maps results. If you do a search that returns videos it wants to
show you YouTube. If you do a search in the, you know, in the world of news, it’s
showing you Google News types of results. I think, I think fundamentally that is
abuse of monopoly power, right? Same with Google Shopping which the European Union has sued, I don’t know, half a dozen times or something, and they fined them three
billion dollars and they did it again, and so they sued them again today or
yesterday, but I mean it’s, it’s just silly right? Google make so much money
and they can buy politicians with such paltry sums right, through, through
lobbying campaign finance donations at least here in the United States, which we
sort of have a bribery based democracy, I don’t know if that’s how it is in
Australia but? Definitely not. Not quite. Okay, but yeah so I think that that’s a,
that would be one of my big changes. The other one would be to make things
transparent. I think Google is sophisticated enough at this point that
they don’t have to play these games of half answers and like, oh it will work
really hard not to say how important links are even though we all *wink wink*
*nod nod* know they’re really important and we’ll say ‘content is really
important’, you know ‘you should make great content’ which is terrible advice because
it’s not advice at all! It’s sort of like ‘well what can I do to be a great human
being?’, you should breathe air and drink water, yeah that’s, that’s a great way
to be alive. Screw you that’s not what I asked I said ‘How do I be a GREAT human
being?’ right, and, and Google basically gives non-answer responses all the time
and then I’m sure just delights and cackles with glee when SEOs try to
dissect every, you know, sentence that they use and don’t use. So I would, I
would make things much more transparent. I don’t think Google
has anything to hide, I don’t think the health of that business or the internet
or the health of the world as a whole is served by their opacity and commitment
to observation and secrecy. Yeah I guess to your first point, that in the same way
they put the Google Flight results at the top of the page it’s – exactly, there’s
no way they’ll be ranking…well yeah Google Partners up there, right yeah it’s,
I don’t think, I don’t think it’s reasonable right. They do the same thing,
I mean one of the things that I hate, this is a small thing, but it’s just so
indicative of their behaviour, Gmail has the different tabs right? The Primary tab,
Social tab, Promotions tab. If you subscribe to my email newsletter you’re
probably going in the Promotions tab unless your Twitter or LinkedIn then you
go in the Social tab right? But…if your project Fi, right Google’s phone program,
for some reason despite the fact that you’re obviously a promotional offering,
you know, if there’s a sale on on Fi, Google Fi phones, huh? Why is that always
in the Primary tab? That’s, that must be nice to just be able to sort of ‘hey, yo,
give me, give me the prime placement’ you know. Years ago, I don’t know how, Alex, how long you’ve been in the SEO world but I remember, you know 10-15 years ago there
was an author, he still, he’s still occasionally writes in the SEO world
named Aaron Wall he was famous for writing SEObook.com which did have an
SEO book associated with it back in the very early days, and Aaron was a constant
nay sayer, he was just incredibly negative and jaded about Google, felt that they
were a completely evil corporation bent on world domination, and you know
attempting to basically, that their whole business was just a Trojan horse that they
could eventually one day become AOL and… Holy shit he was right! I mean I
criticised him for years thinking like, ‘my god this guy is so negative, he’s
so, you know, he just can’t, you just can’t see the world as it is’ and you know what, what dark experiences have let him down this path and then now I’m
shaking myself like ‘No we didn’t listen!’ He called it. So he was the one saying
the earth was round and everyone else was saying the earth is flat. Google’s a
different kind of company they would never do these evil things.
Yeah they say it in their clause ‘Don’t be Evil’ so surely they couldn’t be evil
right? Who would put ‘Don’t be Evil’ in your, in your marketing if what you
intended was to be evil, that would be, that would be diabolical right? These are
fantastic insights and I think you’re a hundred percent spot-on,
there are some alarming changes that Google is driving that we’ll all
have to keep an eye on, not just as SEOs and marketers, but for business owners
too. Now I want to move away from Google, move away from SEO, and talk about your exciting new project – SparkToro. Can
you give our audience some insight into what SparkToro is and why it was the
next logical step in your career? So SparkToro is still in development, we’ve
not yet launched the tool but our hope is basically to help people with a problem
that I think every marketer faces in their, in their, the strategy
portion of their work, which is as you’re doing audience research and market
research you need to develop an understanding of where your audience
pays attention right? Who does my audience listen to? What YouTube channels do they subscribe to? What podcast do they listen to? What publications do they read?
What websites do they visit? What email newsletters are they subscribed to? Who do they follow on, you know, various social networks? Those answers – getting
answers to those questions is is next to impossible because, frankly, when you
survey people they just don’t give you comprehensive or very accurate results
there, that people aren’t generally good about saying like ‘oh yeah here’s who I
actually pay attention to’, ‘here’s what I follow’, ‘here’s what I read, listen to and
watch’ but thanks to the rise of sort of public social and web data it’s out
there. You just have to kind of like be willing to stop your audience, one
by one and sort of say ‘oh okay I want to reach architects in Los Angeles’, all
right let me go visit you know 500 profiles of architects in LA on Facebook
Twitter, LinkedIn, their own websites etc etc. And let’s
see which ones mention and talk to and follow and share these different
platforms and publications the most, and which ones are most popular among that
group. That’s… nobody does that right, it’s just it’s an inordinate amount of work,
most people just rely on surveys or their own intuition, or they Google ‘most
popular architecture blogs’, like ‘the most popular architecture podcasts’, or ‘most
popular architecture events’, and that’s what they sponsor, that’s what they pay
for, that’s where they go do their marketing. And SparkToro is built to
aggregate, to crawl and aggregate, all that public social and web data and
provide a database that you can query against. So instead of this lengthy,
impossible process you just type in ‘architects’ – filter to ‘Los Angeles’
click podcasts, there is a list of podcasts with the percent of architects
in LA who followed them and listened to them. Right, same thing for conferences
and events, same thing for websites, same thing for social accounts. That data is
right at your fingertips and that is, that’s what we’re trying to build. So
when should our audience expect SparkToro to be launched? Fingers crossed we’re
gonna have a beta in about six weeks and if that goes well I think we, we should
be able to launch this summer. Now you’ve already got three free tools on the
website, and I highly recommend everyone go to SparkToro.com, drop your email and
check these tools out. I’m a big fan of the ‘Fake Followers Audit Tool’ which I
know is for Twitter. Are there any plans to introduce an Instagram version of
that? That is probably the most common question we get about that, other than
‘Are you sure sixty percent of Donald Trump’s followers are fake?’ I’m surprised it’s not higher, yeah yeah, those are the two big ones. And the answer to the Donald Trump
one is ‘pretty sure’ and the answer to the Instagram one is ‘probably, eventually’. But
we’re not, we’re trying actually just intentionally to stay away from the the
world of, like, influencer marketing, which has become this world that’s totally
centered on in Instagram and YouTube and sort of paying, mostly young, half-naked
people to pose with your product for a few hundred dollars, and that is,
that’s a world we’re trying to actively consciously avoid. So we’re trying to
help with all the other sources of influence before we get to Instagram. But
eventually we’ll probably offer some tools and services there and at that
point any fake followers would be a good one. There is definitely there’s a huge fake followers problem in, in the Instagram
world, I’m not sure if you saw it but there was an excellent piece from Sarah
Milani talking about how people buy influence on, on Instagram specifically,
and you know all the crazy networks that that people use to pump up their likes
and their comments so that they can appear on the explore page and get a
bunch of new followers, and it’s a very very gamed world right now. Yeah I mean I
guess to play devil’s advocate that’s why I would imagine that tool to be even
more necessary, because it affects serious business outcomes. When there’s
so much at stake when you can trick someone into giving you X amount of
dollars, actually you’ve got zero influence. Yeah, yeah that’s exactly right.
Before you go I’d love to hit you with some quick fire questions. Just throwback
quick fire answers at me and then, and we’ll go from there. So Rand Fishkin,
favourite food? Pasta. Favourite travel destination? Japan maybe. Japan, I’ve never been to Japan my brother speaks Japanese I should go there. Favourite TV show you’re
hooked on at the moment? We’ve been watching Shrill, that’s really good.
Shrill, I haven’t heard of that. I was sure, I was sure you’d say Game of Thrones.
Everyone in the world seems to be obsessed with Game of Thrones. That, I
have never seen that. Me neither, me neither. We’re in the minority mate. No
me neither. What, any book you’re currently reading?
Oh yes, I am reading ‘Making of a Manager’ by Julie Zhuo and I like that a lot. I’m
actually probably about a third of the way through it, yeah. Who do you look up
to the most in life? The older you get, you get, the more you see your your
heroes have their flaws too, but gosh I mean someone who has definitely always
been a mentor and role model for me is Dharmesh Shah.
And finally could you please tell us something about you that our audience does not know. There’s a lot of information about you online, what’s something that
we would not know about Rand Fishkin? Boy I am really public, I mean I feel like
anything I could tell you is probably out there. Like you know I would I would say
I, I play a weird amount of Dungeons and Dragons, at least in the last 11 months.
I read that yesterday, I read the article on it. But I think now that’s well known
right, now people are like ‘Oh Rand found D and D a year ago and now he’s obsessed with it.
Well what about, which character are you in, like in Dungeons & Dragons, who do you
like to to be? Oh you know unfortunately I have to be the storyteller. That makes
sense. I don’t really get to play a character much, oh wait, except in Ian’s game, the
guy who introduced it. So Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent Interactive, they
just sold it to Clearlink, I think just about a year ago, which I think was a great
outcome for them and for Ian and he’s been doing some awesome work since, but
so Ian has been like a dungeon master for forever and in his game I am a small
kind of Hobbit like creature, that lives in Geraldine, my wife’s characters,
backpack. So I just like hop out of there with you know, with my swords and stab
things. There you go everyone, Rand is a small
Hobbit that lives in his wife’s backpack. Small…Rand Fishkin is a
small Hobbit that lives in his wife’s backpack. You can actually make that
my official bio. That’s gonna be trending soon, we’ll put that on a business card. Well mate thank you so much for taking the time to chat with Paperclip today.
I know you’re a busy man, you’ve got SparkToro, again SparkToro.com guys, check it
out and drop your email. Hey thank you so much for chatting with paperclip today!
Alex it was my pleasure. Yeah keep in touch, all the best mate,
thank you so much

3 thoughts on “Rand Fishkin Introduces SparkToro: Plus Marketing Lessons, SEO Tips + Plans for 2019 [Interview]

  1. Paperclip Digital Post author

    Are you looking to increase your site traffic, get more leads and make more sales? If you said 'YES' to any of these goals then comment below with your biggest obstacle and we'll give you free tips to help you reach your goals.

    Reply
  2. FRANCOMATIONS Post author

    Such wise word from a cool guy. Also Alex you look wonderful.

    Reply
  3. Mr2046 Post author

    This guy has a lot of worthwhile things to say, I dig it. Got a few mates I will be sharing this with.

    Reply

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