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Rand Fishkin Talks About SEO vs The Power of Influencer Marketing

February 25, 202253:50

Instead of trying to win the game, change the rules. That’s the advice we hear this week from Rand Fishkin, CEO and Co-Founder of Sparktoro. Together, we explore the way digital platforms have changed and the impact it has on our content, SEO, and social media marketing strategies. Listen as we further define “content,” explore how Sparktoro can help us get to know our audiences, and adjust the ways we measure success to fit our new goals.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

AW:

Hi everyone. It’s April Williams, the co-founder and president of SalesAmp, and your host of From Hello to Yes. Can we all admit selling is hard and it’s almost impossible if you solely focus on the wrong skills? Skills like body language, eye contact and prettier slide decks. The key to an effective sales message goes much deeper than that. And thankfully, our sponsors at Oratium have developed a method to drastically improve the way we sell. And I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on multiple trainings and immediately went back and changed our sales pitch. This method is effective.

So, if you’re ready to increase your conversion rates and decrease your sales cycle times, check out the various ways to learn the Oratium sales method at oratium.com and use the promo code HELLOTOYES30 to receive 30% off their full 10 module E-learning curriculum.

Now let’s get on to today’s guest, shall we? Have you ever come across someone that left a significant impact on you and did that in under an hour? That happened to me recently during my interview with Rand Fishkin, co-founder and CEO of audience research startup SparkToro. Rand is an industry disruptor in all the best ways where countless marketers are vying for the attention of search engines and social platforms, Rand simply chooses not to play the game. He believes marketing and sales success is achieved through smaller audiences with a deeper understanding of who they are and what they need. And if you think you’ve done your fair share of customer empathy, I bet you’ve not approached it the Rand way. Here’s my conversation with Rand. All righty, Rand, thank you so much for joining us today.

RF:

Yeah my pleasure. Great to be here April.

AW:

One of the things we focus on From Hello to Yes is the importance of learning and figuring out this ever changing world of marketing and sales together. We often say none of us is as smart as all of us together. And to that end, we really would like to have the next generation of marketing and sales people see this as a place to come and learn. So I’m going to open to that end and ask you a question as you sit in a place of being a leader in SEO, and even more recently, a leader in the digital PR space, if you were to go back in time, what would the Rand of today say to the 20 year old version of yourself? What advice would you give to the younger version of yourself?

RF:

I am guessing from this question April, that this means you read the opening of Lost and Founder, the book.

AW:

We need to know we ask everyone this question, but yours is going to be particularly fun, for sure.

RF:

I mean, the advice is essentially all 18 chapters of that book is just advice to 20 year old me. Things like, hey, maybe, before you build your own startup, you should join a couple of other people’s startups, even if it’s a bad experience, just to see what works and doesn’t and what you like and don’t like. Maybe, if someone offers you tens of millions of dollars to sell your company, don’t think with great bravado that you’re going to conquer the world and be a billion dollar company, maybe take that first win when you’re young and then you’ll have more opportunities later.

Perhaps you should consider learning software engineering before you try and hire software engineers just enough to be dangerous so that people can’t pull the wool over your eyes. That would be very good advice. Maybe think a little bit harder about your product and your market and how those two things work together and what sources of influence impact your customers and potential customers before you go out and try and market them. So I don’t know, there’s so many, so many pieces of advice that I wish I could give myself and I just, I think, this is the sign of someone who is both introspective and also has made a lot of mistakes.

AW:

Haven’t we all, for sure. And do you think the 20 year old version of yourself Rand would be surprised at where you are today?

RF:

That’s a really interesting question. I don’t know for certain, I think that… Okay, so first off, April, I’m sure you know this, young men are kind of terrible. Just, my heart goes out to anyone who is attempting to interact socially with them, or God forbid, date them, because that’s just an awful experience. And so I don’t want to exclude myself from that category, right. As a young man, I was arrogant and not nearly as introspective as I should be and probably held a lot of, I’m sure, I know I held a ton of foolish beliefs about the world around me. And so maybe I would be surprised. You know what’s strange? I don’t feel like I’m trying to earn the respect of 20 year old Rand.

AW:

That’s a really good answer. I like that. I like that. I think that’s a really, I didn’t see you going there, but I really like that answer. That’s a good spot.

RF:

I feel like a ton of people believe that they have to live up to who their young self thought or hoped that they would be. And when I was young, I sort of worshiped and admired people who were very successful in the financial sense of the word and who had built up, I don’t know, big profiles and followings and I don’t care about that shit anymore. I don’t mean to be offensive to anyone, but I don’t think that those are the right things to value in life. I hope that all of us as we get older and more mature, maybe realize that it’s far better to be kind than it is to be smart. It’s far better to value the health and wellbeing of people around you than it is to value your own financial success. I don’t know. Lot of hard learned lessons.

AW:

What a great opening. I love it. So the next question we’re going to move into, I’m going to give you a long lead up. So stay with me, because I’m going to compare some of the things that you were talking about in Lost and Founder that was published in 2018 with a more recent blog that was written called How Publishing Incentives Are Changing. And we’re going to talk about the world that we were in, that we all believed we were doing the right thing and where we are today. So from your book, Lost and Founder, you say it turns out our best most loyal customers tend to be those who spent considerable time on our site. And you said that you really found that quality content creates stickier customers. Thus, it’s actually in Moz’s interest not to promote our products or conversions too heavily or too fast, especially to new visitors.

You spoke about the need for patients and to wait for your audience to engage as your metrics were showing the clients rewarded you for that. And then we fast forward to 2021 where we’re talking about publishing incentives are changing. Because I would argue that many of us subscribe to the philosophy that you spoke about at Moz that you don’t sell too fast, but we’re talking about that these are challenging times and the incentives for content creators are clear, make stuff for our platforms, uses your quotes, native video, native images, native text posts. Don’t you dare link out or we’ll crush your reach. I love this article by the way, we’ll end your engagement streaks. We bury you so far down the feed, no one will see you. Conduct and publish amazing research on your own site, crickets. Publish it as a tweet thread, a native LinkedIn article, a big graphic of text of Facebook, a photo series of Instagrams, likes, shares visibility and the dopamine hit of social validation are yours.

You go on to say I’m exaggerating, but only slightly, incentives govern behavior. And you tell us that the world of content marketing has changed. SEO media marketing has changed. Excuse me, social media marketing has changed. SEO has changed and you say they’ve changed because the platforms move the goal posts or rather replace how goals should be scored. It’s not just the crowding of creator opportunities, it’s the systems and incentives. And then you say something that is a game changer for me. You say, but when the incentives are so frustratingly against you and frankly, when investing in primarily product marketing has driven such incredible growth for SparkToro in these last months, it’s hard to get motivated.

RF:

So a lot has changed in three years and I started with your book and then I read your, so I’m like, okay, here we are. And even having conversations with teammates at SalesAmp, thinking, what are we telling our clients today? So my question in all of this is what advice do you have for marketers who are responsible for driving engagement and lead generation through content? Where should they be focusing? What should they be doing?

So I think the beautiful thing April is that these two philosophies, while you could see them as disparate, are actually very aligned. And I think it’s a little bit the problem of realizing what we mean when we say the word content. So content can absolutely mean blog posts and videos and articles and research. It could mean a podcast episode that we record together, could mean a webinar. Content can also be content that is driven from or even inside of your product.

So freemium, which is the model that SparkToro uses, right? A free version of the premium software that you might subscribe to, a freemium tool is a piece of content, right? We have some free tools on SparkToro in addition to our primary products that are free, right, that lots of people use. And those, I think of them very much as content, right? I think of them as this is a way to provide value to people that they will come back to again and again, that they are likely to share with others. And that gives some, it sort of starts someone down the path of getting to the product.

And I think that to your question around, what do you do if you are someone whose job is to amplify content and to reach new audiences with it and to help promote it? That list is long. The list of things that you can do is incredibly long. You can absolutely use the platforms out there, right? Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and Google and YouTube and Reddit and all the others to build up your brand through marketing in those places in the ways that those platforms like, and you can draw brand value and brand recognition and familiarity and trust through them.

You can also expend some of that kind of algorithmic reputation that you build on those platforms to draw traffic directly to your site. You can use advertising dollars to do that and to boost it, or you can rely on what I would call like latent interest, right. I start following Taste Magazine on Twitter and then eventually, something catches my eye and I’m like, yeah, let me go to their website. Oh, I like their stuff. I’m going to subscribe to their email newsletter. I’m going to start buying some of the products they recommend. So I’ve moved down and down the path over time after finding them through a platform, in this case, Twitter that where just them posting links would probably have very little value.

AW:

That’s good. I think it’s really still a challenge, because you go on to say in the same article, you talk about the SEO and the challenges that we’re facing. And many of the From Hello to Yes listeners are small and medium size businesses. So what advice do you give small and medium size companies or agencies who are working with small to medium size companies on how to compete in the SEO content space with large enterprises that are taking a lot of the brand equity and certs?

RF:

Weirdly enough, my favorite way to do it is not to play the game. Look, SEO might work great for you if you are amazing at it and you can sort of figure out ways to beat everyone else in the top 10, right? Even the very well funded, very large companies with huge teams of professional SEOs and a ton of ranking signals. If you find ways to beat them, more power to you, you go for it. My preference is I would much rather have a hundred people searching for my brand name than top rankings for 10,000 keywords that are generic but not related to my brand. And one of the best ways to build up that branded search and people seeking you out rather than generic products is to go to the sources of influence in your space, whatever they might be, right?

So maybe you’re in a space that’s very events driven. Maybe you’re in a space that’s where tons of people listen to a lot of podcasts or you’re in a space where a lot of the attention energy is focused on a few Instagram creators or TikTok creators or maybe you’re in a space that’s very locally driven and it’s literally the best thing you can possibly do. We have one of these in our neighborhood is like put up a sandwich board for the salmon that you’re selling down at the fisherman’s terminal. That might be your most effective form of marketing, right?

And then you get people going to Google and searching for fisherman’s terminal salmon and Google will send them your way. They’ll give them the address and then they’ll pop by your, the Alaskan fishing fleet drops anchor just down the road from us. So this is a somewhat real life example here in Ballard, Washington, but you get the idea, right? That essentially you go to the sources of influence that impact your market and you can kind of end around Google’s increasing desire to keep people on their search result and not send them to your site. And you can kind of out with the competition, who’s all trying to vie for those few top spots.

AW:

It’s a great answer. We think about that too at SalesAmp, we’ve been having these conversations and it actually helps me go very nicely into the next question, which I want you to shamelessly promote and talk about SparkToro, because we found you and you are here today because we found you and you came up in our search as we’re using your tool. And many of our listeners might not know what SparkToro is. So tell us what it is, tell us how it came about, how you founded it and how it actually ties really nicely to what you just said.

RF:

Sure. I mean, SparkToro has only been live for 17 months, so it’s still a very new product. I think a lot of marketers and sales folks probably are not familiar and I think that’s actually a great thing for us, right? What SparkToro is, it’s basically a tool for audience research. So you want to understand more about a given audience’s demographics and behaviors and attributes online, SparkToro can tell you that. And the way it does that, it’s actually super simple. So we have everyone’s home address. We go into their house, break in, steal their phone, get their unlock code, and then look at everything that they read, watch, listen to, browse, visit, follow, I’m kidding.

AW:

You must be very busy.

RF:

Yes, we are committing crimes by the thousands every minute. Obviously, if anyone from the FTC is listening, I’m joking. No, but what SparkToro does is we basically do the digital version of that that is super privacy compliant, which is we crawl public web and social profiles and aggregate and anonymize them and then basically show you the data inside. So for example, you might say, oh, my business is selling to CTOs, right? So I’m trying to sell to CTOs at growing startups. And so I want to find on LinkedIn a thousand startup CTOs, I’m going to visit all their LinkedIn profiles, and then I’m going to like click and look at everything that they’re following, I’m going to see what they’re posting about, I’m going to see what kind of language they use. They use particular hash tags. Are they writing about certain things? Are they following topics? Do they use other platforms? Like let’s go check out their Twitter accounts and their Instagram and their Reddit profiles and their YouTube.

That work is real work that people do for audience research, it’s very smart. It’s a very wise thing to do. And it is a super pain in the butt thing to do. Like that ludicrously time consuming. How do you know if you’re getting a big enough sample size? How do you know if the behavior is statistically significant? You essentially have to build a crawler, like your own little machine to go crawl all these profiles and aggregate all that tier together. That’s what SparkToro does. So it just crawls all these public profiles and then it says, okay, here, we have 1912 startup CTOs or people who use the words in their profile, startup and CTO. And here’s where they’re located and here’s their demographics and here’s the sources, the people they follow on social and the publications that they read and the YouTube channels they subscribe to and the LinkedIn accounts they follow and all that stuff.

And then it’s just right there. There’s no fancy AI, no machine learning. The math is like grade school math, right? It’s just, oh, okay, you have 2000 CTOs and 200 of them follow this publication. So it shows you 10% follow that publication. Great. Easy peasy. That’s how SparkToro works. And so you can search in a whole bunch of ways the, as I mentioned right, I was talking about that product marketing and the blog post you quoted. So we have this forever free version that you can try, run a bunch of searches. If you run out of searches, we’ll actually email you with more searches you can do.

And then that’s been how the company’s grown, is essentially, it’s sort of driven through three things. It’s like word of mouth, right? People who try it, tell other marketers about it. Folks like yourself who find it, and then are kind enough to say, hey Rand, would you come and talk about audience research in SparkToro? And then sort of it’s dog fooding for us, right? It’s like, oh, these are the sources of influence for our audience. And they’re asking us to participate. And then the third one has been pretty social media heavy as well.

AW:

It’s been such a time saver for us to do some of the really smart research you’ve always wished you had time to do. I mean, it’s just been like mind boggling for us, for sure. But one of my team members wants to be sure that I ask you, how do you or how would you respond to the short term revenue minded people ask about ROI of any market research and saying, often we’re rushed at SalesAmp to get through any research and just get to driving leads.

RF:

Sure. I mean, I think this is really, SparkToro, in my opinion is not a, oh, everyone should use it to do this one thing, that’s not what it is. The challenge that SparkToro solves is when you come up against the question of, hey, we’re doing programmatic advertising, we’re having a lot of success with certain channels, but we need to find more opportunities. We’ve got to bump up our programmatic ads. What are other publications and YouTube channels that we could go run our Google ads against that would be useful audiences for us? Well, let’s go see which ones have worked already. And boom, I’m going to plug those into SparkToro, what else the people who follow those ones follow? Bam, that’s my next ad solution.

Maybe you have a great content marketing ecosystem that you’re working inside of. And so a lot of your success comes from pitching publications to contribute a guest editorial, or maybe you go and you find YouTube channels that’ll invite you on as a guest. Maybe you go find podcasts that you can sponsor or that you can pitch to be a guest on. Whatever your marketing challenge right, or the individual tactic that you’re doing, if you are having the question of which publications or people or behaviors or hashtags or topics could expand my reach to more of the audience that I want to be in front of, you can use SparkToro to do that.

So it can be a super tactical process. Look, I’m with you on, I’m not actually a huge fan of persona building. I know this is like a big thing that a lot of like marketers do and product folks and salespeople too, right? They’re like, okay, we’ve got whatever house hunting Harry and house hunting Harry likes dogs and hates cats and watches three hours of TV and has 2.5 kids. And he likes iced frappuccinos. Whatever, all these sort of like silly archetypal things that people use to create a fictional character and then they model their marketing on top of that person, it doesn’t resonate with me. For some people it works great, more power to you. I like that very tactical approach of, well, what are people who are house hunting in this neighborhood? What do they read, watch, listen to, pay attention to, follow? That’s where I wanted to marketing. Right?

AW:

Well, we agree wholeheartedly with you at SalesAmp, Rand. And I think there’s something here that too, just connecting the dots back. We opened with one of our big questions being, what do you do today when the incentive platforms are getting harder and harder? And you said something, you said, I don’t play the game.

RF:

I mean, with Google, right? I just don’t.

AW:

I’m not going to play the game. So I think the answer to the question is why would we spend time in this research mode? Because we’re not going to win the game any other way. We want to find where the people are, we want to find what they’re doing, we want to have these conversations. And I think that’s where you are ahead of the market here saying, we’re not going to play the game. We have another way to play. We have a different game. We have a different game.

RF:

Different game. I love that, right. I love the idea that you can win by changing the rules rather than sort of being like, I don’t know how to play rugby at all. I think I’m always off sides. How do they figure it out? I don’t want the cauliflower ears and get beat up.

AW:

But I think that’s such a really message of hope that just feels like it’s getting harder and harder. I’ve been doing this for 25 years and the game changes all the time, but that is, marketing and sales are not for the faint of heart. We are meant to be able to adapt and pivot, and yes, it’s getting harder out there, so let’s play differently.

Speaker 3:

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RF:

I mean, what’s amazing to me is how certain channels and tactics get saturated and then others open up, right? So I remember years ago when I started Moz, SEO was embarrassingly easy, like just… Because Google was very simplistic and you had four different search engines competing and Ask Jeeves was super simplistic and Yahoo was super simplistic. And so if you published content that was useful and high quality, and you got people linking to it with the anchor text of the keyword you wanted to rank for, bam, you were in the top three right away, very, very quickly.

And then you know if you built up some domain authority and you got lots of links to your website, boom, everything you published. My early years at Moz, when I would publish content, it was a slog to try and earn those few links or earn those few rankings, probably my last like six or seven years there, I could rank number one for almost anything I wanted to rank for by hitting the publish button, because Google had already decided that Moz was the resource for SEO.

And so if Rand published something on Moz and it had these keywords in it, tons of people were going to link to it and talk about it and post about it on social and share it and a hundred thousand people would subscribe to the email newsletter, and so it was as easy as hitting publish. Now you take that same sort of beautiful, competitive advantage, and you leave the company and you go start a new company, and when I hit publish on SparkToro, it was the wild west sound, du du du, and there’s just the tumbleweeds are blowing through the empty town and you’re looking around like, wait, what happened?

And so you got to change the game, find new opportunities. And for SparkToro, that new opportunity has been, oh, wait, other people have powerful platforms that already reach the audience I want to reach. And by being in front of them and being appealing to those platforms and having a half decent camera and microphone set up, I can be a good guest on lots of podcasts. And that’s a wonderful way to build SparkToro’s brand value and especially compounded by the pandemic and the fact that I couldn’t travel to speak at events anymore and all this kind of stuff. And the fact that publishing a blog post just doesn’t hold the value that it used to. So change the game.

AW:

I love, change the game is going to be the title I think of this podcast.

RF:

Change the game.

AW:

Change the game. And to tie right into that, you also wrote a blog recently called who will amplify this and why? And you speak to the tendency to market and write to potential customers and you boldly state why creating for them exclusively versus creating for potential amplifiers is a bad idea. I even think there’s a sentence in that blog that you say, and for those that ask me why, you say, because no one knows you, and then you say, sorry, I had to say it. We just have to put it out there, no one knows you, that’s why we’re doing this. So speak to why this is so important. And any tips you have again, to reach those to amplify, and we’re sort of tying into what you just spoke about, but anything else you can add to that?

RF:

Yeah, I mean April I think this is a fundamental flaw in our conceptualization of how marketing and sales works, right. Which is essentially the goal of marketing and sales. And the classic sense is I want to reach potential customers of my business with my message so that they will come to my business and buy. And in 1950, it’s pretty good, right? Like pretty good mindset. And in a world of machine learning based algorithms governing engagement and rewarding emotional engagement that earns amplification and more time on a platform, and that being the dominant form of media consumption as opposed to a whole bunch of, I don’t know, white guys in New York buying a newspaper, right? Like different world.

Different world and so you have a different model of thinking instead of who are my potential customers, and what’s the message that’s going to resonate with them, you are thinking, how do I become the thing that publications want to write about and talk about and share and engage with and amplify? And to do that, you don’t want to think about necessarily your potential target end customer, or it’s certainly not exclusively, you want to think about who are the people who will broadcast and amplify and share and promote what I’m doing? And that group of people have very different incentives and a different mindset than your potential customers. And I get very nervous that many marketers and sales folks are still stuck in the, I create for my customers when they are building marketing focused amplification earning content.

AW:

And talk about some of what those incentives might be, as for some of the audience might be hearing this for the first time. Talk about that.

RF:

Sure. So the incentive from the platform perspective is the first one. When I say platform, think Google, YouTube, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok and their incentives are all exactly the same. Keep people highly engaged on their platform, addict them more and more to scrolling more and more, to staying in their feeds more and more. I mean, we’re recording this the week of October 6th, right? And the Facebook whistleblower has just testified before Congress yesterday. And you can hear all about how Facebook’s business model and incentive structure is all geared around creating addiction to the platform. And the most effective way to do that Facebook has discovered is anger, right? That people who are angry about what they see on Facebook will stay engaged, they will comment, they’ll share it, they’ll scroll more, they’ll follow sort of whatever the algorithm recommends that makes them angrier. And anger is not the only emotion that you can play to, but it’s certainly a very effective one, and this is why Facebook has sort of come to have the reputation for the content that it promotes.

It’s not that Facebook said like, hey, we’re really trying to get more Nazis here. It’s just that content is very emotionally engaging. And so it drives the incentives for that platform. So that’s one incentive model to think about. The second incentive is to think about the incentive of people who share and amplify.

AW:

Yes.

RF:

So put yourself in the mindset of someone who runs a popular email newsletter in your field, especially in B2B, I think this is a great way to think about it, an email newsletter. Their incentive is what could I write about in my newsletter? What could I cover and link to that would make people who subscribe to the newsletter say, “Man, I am so glad that I am a subscriber to April and Rand’s newsletter.” You know what? I should send this to some of my colleagues, because they would really benefit from this too. Gosh, if they hadn’t told me about this new tool, article, research, survey article, like whatever it is, I would be worse at my job. I would have a worse understanding of what I’m doing. I am so glad that I subscribed to Rand and April, that incentive is another hugely important one.

And then I would also think about the incentive of the individual person in your field or niche sharing something on their social channel, right? Why would someone tweet about this? Why would they hit the share button on LinkedIn? Why would they hit the share button on Facebook? Why are they going to take a picture of it and post it to their Instagram? If you think about like what hotels and restaurants are doing to kind of be Instagram friendly, they have obviously gotten the, oh, if we can make it a cool, unique looking photo experience, lots of people who have many followers on Instagram will take a photo in front of this little, whatever, flowery mural that says Fairmont Hotels and then we will get millions of people viewing our brand for free.

Why would we pay for Instagram ads when we could just spend 100th of dollars on something that looks great for people to take photos of in front of our hotel? Dah, dah, right? You’re thinking about the incentives of the share. So those are the kinds of incentives that I am urging people to consider when they create.

AW:

And it’s a mind shift, especially in the B2B space. Because when we think about an agency, like SalesAmp is, our clients are looking for us to reach their potential customers. But what you’re saying is let’s change the game.

RF:

Change the game.

AW:

Let’s change the game and still we’ll get there. And even though it might seem longer when you start out the trip, it’s probably going to be faster.

RF:

It’s almost certainly going to be much more effective with far less competition and you are going to build a unique, competitive advantage over everyone else who’s still focused on, how do I get rankings for this generic keyword? And how do I just tell people to come whatever, stay at my hotel or subscribe to my software? And this mindset change alone can make you massively more effective at sales and marketing.

I think the other mindset change that you have to be ready for, and this one is so hard, especially in your shoes, you’re not going to be able to perfectly track it, right? Facebook ads is going to tell you that all the revenue you ever made and ever will make came because someone saw your Facebook ad. But as many people who’ve shut off all their Facebook advertising, no, gosh, it seems like 95% of those customers still showed up. Are those, oh man, I’m only getting a 5% incremental bump from my, gosh, how is it possible that I’m getting so much value?

There’s a great story where you know, pizza shop hires, this is like many years ago, but pizza shop hires three folks to pass out little flyers for the pizzeria and the flyers have a unique code on them, right? It’s a coupon code. And that code is tied to which person they gave it to distribute. And so they go and folks are distributing around the neighborhood, right? There is all these like pizza flyer distributor kids. And it turns out that when the pizza owner analyzes at the end of the month, like which coupon was the most used, there’s like one person who’s responsible for almost every single order that came in. Just unbelievable. This one kid just dominated, how did she do it? What was she doing right?

She stood immediately outside the pizza place and gave it only to the people who are coming into the pizzeria. That’s Facebook and Google ads, right? Facebook and Google ads stand at the gates of the internet before anyone reaches your website and they pass out a URL tracking code that shows that they are responsible for all of the sales that you make. Pretty great way, right. Pretty great way to use analytics to dominate your market.

AW:

But that’s blowing my mind too, Rand, but I think it’s how, and that’s a challenge I’ll take back and challenge the listeners. We’re going to have to change how we think about measuring. And I mean, we’re going to have to change the game in all aspects.

RF:

Change the game, right? So like you have to do things, you have to do clever things like, hey, we got you a speaking appearance on this podcast, at this event or this webinar, or we booked you some press coverage in this niche publication, or we got you this editorial piece in this blog. And now what happens to direct traffic, type in traffic, branded search over the next X amount of time after it was published. And how does that compare to what, in an ideal world, a Montecarlo simulation of your traffic would’ve ordinarily looked like?

And now we can reverse out and say, aha, that podcast was responsible for a 6% lift this month. That is incrementally worth this many dollars to you. We are going to take half the money we spend on Facebook and Google ads and we are going to put it toward podcasts and YouTube channels and pitching press and media and all that, because look at the ROI. But it’s inferred ROI from imprecise imperfect measurements. And there are absolutely, almost every CEO and executive is like, “Ah, I’m not sure I can take that to the bank.” Not compared to Facebook saying 16,212 people viewed your ad and then purchased from your website. You can take that to the bank.

AW:

That’s our challenge, right? This is going to be the challenge and where we’re stepping into.

RF:

You just got to explain to them, that kid is standing outside the pizzeria.

AW:

Right. She’s brilliant, but she’s messing with our metrics.

RF:

She’s brilliant, but also a little manipulative.

AW:

Yes, for sure. Maybe now even a little Layla. Shifting gears, we have time for this question that I wanted to ask you because it just intrigued the heck out of me. I’m going to go back to your Lost and Founder book and you share how you traded places with Will Reynolds. And you literally swapped lives for an entire week. Just talk with us because one, I would just love to know how did this come about? Which you talk a little bit about it in your book, but share that and then I’m going to ask you, what can we as marketers and sales people learn if we can’t switch lives, what are you actually prompting us to do?

RF:

Yeah, I mean, I love the experience. I would recommend it to folks. I think it’s a way to get deep empathy for another human being in a way that is almost never done in modern life. So we exchanged homes. I lived in his apartment with Nora, his wife and Coaltrain, his dog, who sadly passed away last year. But this is before Will had kids. So no Nico and Rio, but Will lived in my apartment on Capitol hill in Seattle and walked to the Moz offices and was CEO for a week. And we took meetings with… Both of us had meetings with people who like resigned that week from our companies. And we got on the phone with customers and we attended all of our product meetings and all this stuff, we answered each other’s emails, which is the most strange experience I ever had was just answering another human being’s email, that was crazy and wild. And I do highly recommend it if you can make it work. I don’t know anyone else who’s done it. I mean, I’ve never met anyone.

AW:

What did the debrief look like? What did the regrouping, sitting across from each other? What did that look like?

RF:

That was very powerful and also very frustrating. I think that was, as I wrote about in Lost and Founder, the experience that I had not just with Will reporting back to me about his experience at Moz, but also my experience talking to and like living the life of a marketer at an agency that was using Moz in addition to other SEO software tools made me realize that we had made a lot of mistakes.

And I think if there’s one takeaway that I could get that’s very business actionable it’s man, if you can sit in the shoes of your customer, doing the job that your product is supposed to be helping them with and then watching them do it and watching them do it with your competitor’s products, oh my God, I had my eyes open like never before, right. I think there’s just not a lot of CEOs, tragically, not a lot of CEOs watch people use their competitor’s products to solve the problem that they are helping people solve.

AW:

It’s brilliant. It’s really brilliant. And you go on and suggest that we create regular customer exposure for ourselves and our team. And you talk about everything from conferencing and events to volunteering, to paid or pro bono work.

RF:

Case studies. Like one of the things we’re doing at SparkToro right now, Amanda and I are contacting a bunch of our top users, the people who use SparkToro the most and just being like, hey, could we schedule like 30 minutes to interview you about how you use our product and what problems you’re solving with it and how you solve those before yada, yada? Yes, we’re absolutely planning to turn that into content, for our website to help other people benefit from using it and also to amplify our customers to be like, hey, check out what SalesAmp is doing with SparkToro. Like, you can learn a ton from them. And then hopefully driving some business your way, or the folks that we’re covering, but what an amazing way to get insights into how people are using your product and how they’re being frustrated by your product, that I cannot recommend enough. I don’t think I’ll ever build another business that doesn’t regularly do that.

AW:

It was by far, I really enjoyed so much about your book, but it was one of my favorite parts. It just felt like it should be a movie of how you actually came up with it, how you actually decided to do it, what you learned and how your lives both changed because of it. It was brilliant. Just brilliant.

RF:

No, I mean, it built a lifelong friendship, right?

AW:

How could it not?

RF:

Will and I are thick as thieves. And I don’t know if he would consider me this, but I would say, if he’s not my best friend, he’s one of my best friends, absolutely. And it’s been very hard the last 18 months not being able to see him, right. Because he lives in Philadelphia and his kids aren’t vaccinated yet, so it’s not really safe to visit yet, man.

AW:

Well, that’s going to be my hope for you then that you see him soon because anyone who switches lives, you guys should be in touch, for sure.

RF:

I see pictures of those two boys on Instagram and Will occasionally share on Google photos, like a little video of them. There was one where he asked his oldest son Rio, who are his absolute favorite people, right? He wanted like, “Who are your favorite people, Rio?” And I was number two. I was number two on Rio’s.

AW:

Phenomenal.

RF:

I hadn’t seen the kid in like a year. I swear I started crying when I saw this video.

AW:

But those are the stories we’re hearing of those of us who are living in these times, but my hope is you see them soon. Our From Hello to Yes final question. What has you stumped today? And who and what and where are you going for answers?

RF:

What a great question. This is so strange. I’m going to take such a hard left turn April. I am in my spare time working on a project with my wife, Geraldine, we are designing and writing a video game. And I am currently struggling very hard to understand how to make a great video game from a whole bunch of angles. So I’ve been watching a ton of videos from these game developer conferences of people who’ve built amazing games and written for them. And it’s so nerdy, right. Like instead of watching whatever Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or What We Do in the Shadows. Like last night I turned on YouTube and I’m like, okay, I want to see the Disco Elysium game developer conference talk. That’s my nighttime viewing, right. And I’m listening to this woman from Estonia who joined an artist collective in the 2000s talk about how she wrote this incredible game and yup, just a fascinating experience.

So I am currently stumped on this challenge of, because video game marketing world is so product driven, right? There are very few worlds I think that are still as purely product driven, where in terms of when I say product driven, what I mean is, if you produce an extremely high quality product that is super fun and enjoyable for lots of people, you will be successful. That’s almost impossible in nearly any artistic pursuit and many business pursuits, right?

Like SparkToro could be a much worse tool, but if it were much better marketed, it would probably be more successful. And video game world, it’s really tough to take a piece of crap and market it well. So this is, I’m going back to the drawing board and it is a ton of fun, a fascinating experience. I think it’s a lot like the CEO swap thing. It’s just like, let me put myself in someone else’s shoes and try and learn this whole new pursuit. I hope it makes me better at all the things that I do, not just with the game, but also with thinking about marketing and sales and product development.

I think in my first 20 years of building a career, I was very myopic and insular and very focused. And I thought that all that I needed to worry about was building great software and marketing it and tech and marketing world. And now I think to myself, no, maybe the world is bigger than that. Let me change the game.

AW:

Well, if I had to put my money on anyone creating the next great video game, Rand Fishkin, it would be you. So I can’t wait to see what you do.

RF:

April, you are so kind and such a terrible gambler.

AW:

The terrible gambler part is very true, but I’m going to bet on and see what happens here, for sure.

RF:

Let’s not go to Las Vegas together.

AW:

Well, I just thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you’ll come back and chat with us, maybe when it’s launching this video game and you need an audience, we’ll have you back here.

RF:

Oh my God! I would be honored. I’d be over the moon. That would be so fun.

AW:

And where can our listeners follow you and keep up with what you’re doing?

RF:

So I am most active on Twitter where I’m @Randfish. I’m also pretty active on LinkedIn, so you can find me Rand Fishkin there. And of course, if folks want to check out SparkToro, they can get a free account on sparktoro.com. I do post the blog and so does Amanda, our marketing architect, sparktoro.com/blog.

AW:

Awesome. On behalf of From Hello to Yes, Rand, thank you again for joining us today. It’s been fun.

RF:

April, I really enjoyed our conversation. Thanks for having me.

AW:

Thanks. There were so many highlights from my conversation with Rand, but my biggest takeaways were that Rand Fishkin is an unbelievable change agent and just a really good human being. I loved when we opened up and spoke about the younger versions of ourselves, he said he hoped that all of us, as we get older and more mature might realize that it’s far better to be kind than it is to be smart, amen to that. But once again, we find Rand on the cutting edge of change. The large social media platforms are making it harder and harder to get found. So rather than trying to figure out how to play, he creates a platform to help us play an entirely different game. He encourages us to think about the people who will broadcast and amplify and share and promote what we’re doing. And that group of people have very different incentives and a different mindset than your potential customers.

Such great tips for any of us, but especially if you’ve been frustrated by the restrictions of Google and the large social media platforms. You’re welcome. And don’t forget, all of the resources mentioned today can be found in our show notes on the salesamp.com podcast page along with other episodes, including Oratium’s promo code, HELLOTOYES30 to instantly receive 30% off the same training curriculum used by companies like IBM, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Disney and more. Virtual selling doesn’t have to be hard. Visit oratium.com to learn more. So that’s a wrap. Remember in this fast paced world of marketing and sales, we are better together. Thanks for joining us today on From Hello to Yes. Hope you’ll join us again soon. Bye for now.

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