From a dropped out student from the University of Washington to make an everlasting impact in the world of technology and digital marketing, Rand Fishkin has carved a niche for himself. He started as a web designer in his mother’s small business marketing firm and co-founded SEOmoz, now called Moz, A blog related to search engine optimization. He became the CEO of SEOmoz in 2007 and made Moz, one of the top-notch company in the digital marketing domain. He stepped down as CEO in February 2014 and left the company in 2018.
He found SparkToro, an audience research-based software company that gives insightful data to marketers and companies about their audience behavior. SparkToro gives insights to marketers about what their customers read, watch, follow, and listen to.
We have asked some interesting questions to Rand and he answered each of them with great insight and enthusiasm. Check out the interview and give your feedback and share it on your social media platforms.
1. Let’s Start with your Journey in the Field of SEO/Digital Marketing.
Rand Fishkin – Not sure what the question is (lol) I started in the tech world as a web designer, then moved into SEO in the early 2000s. After a few years, my blog (originally called SEOmoz and later, Moz) became quite popular in the search marketing field, and spurred us to transition from a consultancy to a software company. I left Moz in 2018 to start SparkToro, a new kind of software company focused on audience research. We launched our product in April 2020, and hope to provide a new, uniquely-valuable, and previously hard-to-come-by type of data to marketers and creators.
2. What’s been your Biggest Hurdle Scaling the SparkToro?
Rand Fishkin – Hard to know for certain, but I suspect it’s awareness of the problem space. Many marketers and the executives who control their budgets are used to simply throwing up their hands and assuming they won’t know where to reach their audiences online, so they just throw money at Google and Facebook, letting them sort out the targeting. Given how tough the problem has been, that’s no surprise. Our job is to make folks aware that, with SparkToro, there’s now a way to figure out what any audience reads, watches, listens-to, visits, and follows. It doesn’t take tens of thousands of dollars or months of surveys and interviews, either — SparkToro can do it in just a few seconds.
The hurdle has been getting that message out. For example, this problem (finding where your audience pays attention so you can go do marketing in those places) doesn’t have a name. I’ve asked thousands of marketers the last few years about how they do this, and while many make an investment, almost no one has any idea what to call it. When I founded Moz and made SEO software, it was easy to say “we make SEO software” and have people understand that. With SparkToro, it’s the opposite. I need to explain the problem, our solution, and why it’s valuable every time.
3. Tell us about some Exciting Features of SparkToro.
Rand Fishkin – The most valuable and novel part of SparkToro is the ability to search for any audience and see what percent of that group follows, engages, or interacts-with a given source of influence. Previously, that was all guesswork. A marketer might assume that lots of people interested in gardening engage with Sunset Magazine, but is it more or less than The Spruce or Horticultural Magazine? Do twice as many gardeners engage with Sunset? Half as many? A tenth? No one knew. SparkToro’s most exciting feature is answering that question with high precision and consistent reliability.Another of our customers’ favorite features is Email + Contact Info in Lists, which allows a marketer to search for an audience, find the sources they’re interested in contacting, adding them to a list, and getting the contact information for those publications/people in just a few seconds. It makes the outreach and pitching process incredibly easy.
4. So What’s your Perception for the Next Five Years for SparkToro’s Business and Rand Fishkin as an Individual?
Rand Fishkin – My guess is the next year or two will be a heads-down grind to build awareness, earn adoption, and grow the audience around SparkToro. I’m hopeful that by 2023 or 2024, we’ll have a bit more of a significant footprint in the web marketing world, and be considered a standard for market research. That’s gonna require a lot of focus on the core data we collect and provide, as well as a hefty investment in our own marketing strategy.
As for me, personally, the last year has felt very frustrating and difficult due to the pandemic. I can’t wait for widespread vaccination. After that, I hope to get back to traveling more, seeing the people I love, and breaking out of the fear and monotony of long term quarantine.
5. What do you Think is the Best Marketing Tactic for an e-Commerce Site?
Rand Fishkin – Totally depends on the products, the positioning, and the customers. High ticket price items that target the luxury market operate entirely differently from low margin commodities. E-commerce in the food and drink sector is completely different than e-commerce for sports equipment, clothing, electronics, games, housewares, etc.
My best advice for choosing a tactic is in this blog post. It’s less about which tactic is best for a sector, and more about what works for you as an individual and brand.
6. What would you Consider to be the Biggest Marketing Mistake during COVID-19?
Rand Fishkin – Easy: tying together politics and health practices.
Years of experience around the world have taught governments that they must separate political parties and political figures from health recommendations and directives. In countries that understood this and let their health apparatus’ govern Covid-related policy (Vietnam, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Norway, Korea, etc), you see extraordinary results compared to places that heavily politicized the issue (the USA, UK, Brazil, etc).
People are heavily tribal when it comes to politics, and will follow their political party/leader even into death and despair. When politics and health policy clash in a pandemic, the result is a marketing disaster that leads, quickly, to the massive death tolls we’re now experiencing.
7. What are your Suggestions for Marketing Agencies in 2021?
Rand Fishkin – I’m actually writing a blog post about this right now; should publish in the next week or so. I’ll give away one spoiler: focus on right-fit clients. Not every client is right for every agency, but because many agencies need revenue and clients short-term to help pay the bills, they bend over backward in attempts to serve clients that probably aren’t good matches.
My advice is a little unusual — I’d say it’s fine to have an ongoing set of clients you need because they pay the bills, even if they’re not a great fit. Instead of viewing the relationship as a constantly frustrating, high tension one, simply take it for what it is: short term, transactional, and unlikely to turn into something more. Do the work you’ve promised, get the results as they come, but don’t expect the client to continue after an initial engagement, and don’t put more work or emotion into the relationship in the hopes of getting something more. At any given time, it’s fine to have a few of these more transactional, poor-fit clients aboard when you need the revenue, and when they don’t work out, you can wish them well, satisfied that your team did their job, your client got results, and it’s OK that they’re not turning into a long-term fit.
Much of this is about the psychology of client retention. Agency owners and consultants often feel that any lost client is a bad thing, but you don’t have to think this way! Frame poor-fit clients as just that, not only to yourself, but to your team. If the client changes to fit your model, style, work, or team better, great! And if they don’t, hey, you got paid, they got work, and that’s plenty fine. Not every restaurant you try needs to become a go-to spot. Sometimes you’re just hungry, they’re just serving food, and you exchange currency for sustenance.
8. What is your Magic Word for Social Media Engagement?
Rand Fishkin – Incentives. People on social media engage with content because it’s shown to them, it serves their interests, furthers their goals, or appeals to their emotions. If your posts can do those things, you can earn the engagement you’re seeking.
9. What is the Story Behind this Masterpiece: Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World?
Rand Fishkin – Ha! Thanks, I’m thrilled you found it valuable. I wrote the book in an attempt to scale the experiences and learnings I had in my first couple decades building and running a venture-backed startup: Moz. I learned so many remarkable, painful lessons, and I didn’t want to be the only one who could, in the future, avoid making those same mistakes.
[Image Source: https://bit.ly/2L33Yt9]
10. Outside of SparkToro, How do you Prefer to Spend your Time?
Rand Fishkin – I love to travel, see friends, cook dinners for guests, and go out to restaurants. Sadly, all those things are impossible now, so 2020 was a year with a lot of screen time and not much else. Here’s to hoping that turns around in 2021.
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We love to discuss ideas with experts to help our community. This expert interview is part of our policy of knowledge sharing with our audience. Hope the interview offers some important insights about audience research and other key aspects of digital marketing.