In this interview with John Lincoln, Rand Fishkin covers his journey with Moz, his plan for SparkToro, why he is driven by guilt, his predictions for digital marketing and more.
Listen now to understand the insatiable drive in Rand Fishkin and why that may lead to his ultimate redemption.
Read the Full Transcript Below:
[06:32] John Lincoln: Okay everybody welcome to Ignite Visibility University. Today I have Rand Fishkin on the line and I’m so excited to have him here. He’s going to talk to us about his new venture, his new book, and about the future of marketing.
So a little bit about Rand: so in 2004 Rand Fishkin co-founded the SEO software company Moz and he was there until about 2014 and then he left to start SparkToro which is a software and data company focused on helping people understand how and where to react to their target audiences, and I can’t wait to hear more about this. He’s also the author of Lost Confounder, which is a really cool book that’s come out recently. It’s got a lot of great reviews so we talked a little bit about that, and he’s also a frequent keynote speaker – great speaker actually – I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with him at one point at Web Summit which was really fun. Rand, thank you so much for being on Ignite Visibility University podcast. How are you doing today?
[07:32] Rand Fishkin: Good, yeah thank you for having me John and just a quick note of clarification, I was CEO at Moz until 2014 but I actually was still at the company until just last year.
[07:48] John Lincoln: Awesome thanks for clarifying on that.
[07:50] Rand Fishkin: In five years to launch this new piece of software what’s going on?
[07:54] John Lincoln: Yeah so you were at Moz for a while and really, you know, I’ve always loved watching the Whiteboard Fridays and it seems like you still have some connection there. What’s your current relationship with Moz?
[08:07] Rand Fishkin: I am still the chairman of the board of directors, and yeah they asked me to come in and do a few Whiteboard Fridays this year, but apart from that yeah not particularly involved. My wife and I are still shareholders in Moz obviously from, you know, my days founding the company and being CEO for a long time.
[08:33] John Lincoln: Well I always loved watching those Whiteboard Fridays. I remember when I first got into digital marketing – really my first director role actually back in 2010 I think – I’ve watched every single one of them they’re just fantastic and so you’re an excellent teacher and you talked a little bit about Moz, but tell us just about what your current role is looking like today. What are you up to now on a day-to-day basis now that you’re working with SparkToro. Tell us a little bit about that.
[09:02] Rand Fishkin: Yeah so SparkTorow was really tiny, my co-founder Casey Henry and I started it just about year ago and we have been doing all the things that a classic early stage software startup does with a little bit of a different trajectory on the fundraising and sort of outcome side.
We have been sort of coming up with a theory of what, you know, the problem we wanted to solve, which is essentially this space around discovering the sources of influence for any audience. It’s what we call audience intelligence, basically you know if you want to learn more about your target customers and who and what influences them and what podcasts they listen to, what events they go to, what email newsletters they subscribe to, what websites they visited, what social accounts they follow what words and phrases they used to describe themselves and their bio, where they are geographically, all those kinds of things. That type of audience intelligence right now is extremely expensive. You know, Casey and I obviously talked to a lot of folks who collect that type of data who do that kind of work. Many of them don’t even have a name for it, like they don’t call that work anything they’re sort of like oh yeah I have to research my customers when I build my personas or you know I try and learn more about my customers so that I can do better marketing to them and that practice is not well systematized especially in small and medium businesses and for a lot of agencies and consultancies and so we thought gosh you know that’s a that’s a sphere that’s right for some innovation let’s see what we can build there and so we’ve been yeah for about nine months building and testing some software and hopefully have a beta coming in just a few weeks actually.
[11:00] John Lincoln: Wow that’s really exciting and I think you know you I love the concept because I feel like you’re hitting on the main pin point in marketing right now which is something that I’ve been just talking a ton about and hearing from other people on this podcast when I’ve interviewed them, there’s so many different places to put in your effort right, so many different sources and mediums that can send traffic to your website and now, you know, you used to be you know ten years ago you know people would just be doing email marketing and a little bit of Adwords and a little bit of SEO, but now with so many different social sites and so many different ways to advertise and networks and podcasts and, you know, in publications so it sounds like, if I got this right, you know you’re kind of trying to create that centralized area that can help determine where all these most important spheres of influence are and then put that all into one place. Is that right?
[11:56] Rand Fishkin: A little bit. So I would say what we’re building is an extremely focused portion of that where we’re trying to solve this one precise problem, which is basically, you know, John if you’re thinking to yourself ‘boy why am I throwing all my money at Google and Facebook maybe I should try and broaden out and you know find some other places to go invest either organically or on the paid side. SparkToro is basically a very simple search engine that you perform a query. Let’s say that you are trying to reach economists, maybe you’re doing some work with a consulting firm right and the consulting firm says hey you know we’re trying to broaden our brand appeal to economists, that’s who we serve right we have a series of events and a paid subscription for professional economists. So you go okay well I don’t know a lot about economists. Where do they hang out what do they read and listen to and watch and smart are can tell you that you know you type in economists and smart RL won’t return to you a list of economists no it will return a list of the websites economists read and visit and share the social accounts that they follow podcasts that they listen to words and phrases that they often use to describe themselves or that they frequently use when they’re sharing content, their geographic distribution so you might know where which events to hit up and where that okay and eventually we’re going to we’ve tested some you know returning data about events as well but those answers are going to right at your fingertips instead of you know a sixty day long survey away.
[13:49] John Lincoln: Mm-hmm well absolutely love that and the way that you described it sounds much cooler than the way that I guessed at what your fast platform does thank you for that.
[13:59] Rand Fishkin: One of the challenges of building a new product, especially in a new space, is if I said oh I’m building an SEO tool – you and I both know what goes in an SEO tool everybody knows what goes into it right – but what goes into an audience intelligence tool? Like that could be anything, could mean almost anything, and so I think it’s going to be a marketing challenge for us to sort of describe it well and convey the reality of what the product is which um that’s an exciting challenge I’m going forward to that.
[14:36] John Lincoln: Yeah that definitely is a challenge and as you describe it I think of so many different options out there, but with your expertise and being in the space for so long I think, you know, nothing but success is in the future there and you know one thing I want to ask you is kind of along the lines of SparkToro. You know one of the things you’ve been really clear about is that with this company you wanted to have organic profitable growth. Like you’ve gone on the record and said we’d rather be the best product in the space than the biggest company, so it kind of seems like you’re taking a different approach to this then you did with Moz, and that many other companies do out there just in general I mean. Tell me just a little bit about that.
[15:19] Rand Fishkin: Yeah absolutely. So I think that when you create a company all paths are open to you right, you can choose whether growth is more important or profitability or you know sort of customers come first or employees come first or founders come first right, whatever it is. Casey and I had both had a number of experiences. Casey’s been in four I think he’s worked at four venture-backed businesses over the last 10-12 years, obviously I’ve only worked at Moz previously but Moz was venture-backed. I raised I think twenty nine million dollars from that business and as a result right, when you raise when you raise institutional money you make a commitment that is essentially we will pursue growth over most other things right, that is the priority of those business like that is growth you can see that very clearly with all the recent IPOs right everyone from zoom and Pinterest to Hoover and lyft. You know these are companies who’s North Star is growth, and I have come to believe that I’m not actually a fan of that of that motto.
I don’t like the externalities of what it does to the world and to your customers or to your team and employees, to your executives, to your own health and happiness and life. I don’t really like what it does to society and to you know wealth inequality and distribution issues and I don’t think it’s actually really good for customers either.
I think that sometimes growth can correlate with happy customers and often it doesn’t, and so with SparkToro we decided, hey we’re not going to raise from institutional investors we are going to build a business that is centered on being profitable, on being the best at whatever it can be and we’re going to raise money accordingly. So we raised from about 30 I think 36 angel investors, almost all friends and colleagues, some folks I didn’t know but mostly people we knew and SparkToro is an LLC which means we basically distribute profits, so you know if we make a million dollars in a year and two hundred thousand of dollars of this profit we essentially split that up pro rata between the owners of the company. No the investors or shareholders.
[18:12] John Lincoln: I love that. I have to say I just absolutely love what you’re doing there. I don’t know if you know much about us but you know my business partner Krish Koughran and I, we saved up $15,000 you know very minimal, minimal money you know, didn’t take any money for six months and you know just started with one client and then just added clients over time. We’ve always run it as a profitable business you know now we’re going on you know growing from nine to you know twelve million or something like that but always profitable, always customer first, always employee first and we’ve had a lot of growth but we’ve always done it in a sustainable way and I feel like we’ve always earned our way to the next level.
We could have taken money you know at any point in time to really have things grow exponentially, but we haven’t done that and I just really applaud you for the direction that you’re going there. I think that you know one thing it could be challenging in some ways not to have massive funding in the SAS space but it does sound like you’ve gotten enough that you know you have what you need and you’ve got a clear vision so it won’t hinder you guys at all right?
[19:18] Rand Fishkin: I don’t know if won’t hinder at all but it’s certainly one of those things where I don’t think money raised is a huge competitive advantage in subscription SAS or self-service SAS. I think if you’re going enterprise and you’re basically, hey I need to you know hire ten salespeople, have those ten salespeople work for a year sort of not profitably before they kind of get trained up and get good at selling to this market and we kind of learn how the market works and then each customer we bring on board you know we don’t make money from them until year three of their contract. Okay yeah you need to raise a lot of money right? You need a huge war chest to go to battle without that.
HubSpot is a great example of that righ,t where they raised an incredibly large amount of money, I think it was North Omaha million dollars and this is before they went public right, and then you know they were burning cash like crazy but they knew their model worked because they had you know three-year, four-year customer payback periods and they knew that lifetime value was eight to ten years. So you know they’re golden right? They’ve got a model that works. With SparkToro we’re going to take an approach much more like the early days of Moz right, when I was CEO which was basically subscription self-service. So you come to the site, you put in your credit card you know, you pay for the months as you use it.
[20:56] John Lincoln: Awesome. So you know youat Moz you had a tremendous amount of successs, became this somewhat of a you know rockstar in the digital marketing field. Now you’re taking a step back. You’ve got this new company, you know I always find it interesting like I would just like to know like what drives you? What is keeping you interested here? Do you have any type of like value proposition within yourself that makes you want to contribute to the digital marketing field? Talk to me about that a little bit.
[21:27] Rand Fishkin: Let’s see. I would say there are three primary drivers, well three big drivers, none of them particularly healthy but okay. You know there if were a clinical psychologist you’d say, “Oh Rand you need some help my friend”.
[21:47] John Lincoln: Okay no judgement I promise.
[21:51] Rand Fishkin: You know the three drivers. One, I constantly feel this kind of guilt, I think an overwhelming amount of guilt, a sort of guilt at around not doing enough for other people and for myself. Of not being able to kind of give back enough, of not being able to produce more right. I know that I can be helpful to people and when I sort of slack off and you know, oh man it’s been a few weeks since I wrote a blog post I feel terrible about that you know
[22:30] John Lincoln: Yeah I get that one for sure.
[00:43] Rand Fishkin: Whatever it is right? So I think guilt is one of my big drivers. Another one is a sort of a core belief that I’m not good enough right? I think I wrote this in Lost and Founder, but you know when I was a kid I remember my dad would always say to me and other people about me sort of being a high potential low achiever. And I think that there are many things now that I kind of you know, I can see more clearly as an adult. That maybe my dad wasn’t right about everything, but I actually believed that he was right about that. I think that I have much more potential than what I’ve been able to accomplish so far and so that’s a big driver. Maybe feeds back into the guilt thing.
And then the third one is I have a strong desire to prove people wrong. I don’t know if there’s a motivator for you John but when someone tells me ‘you can’t do that that’ll never work,’ all the swear words go off in my head and I get to work, yeah right?
So those are those are big drivers and obviously there’s a lot of, I think there’s a lot of people who believe that the venture model is the only model that works well for startups. That you know funding a profitable low-to-mid growth or company that might only be 10 to 50 million dollars in revenue or maybe even less than that and is going to try and make a go of it, that’s a terrible model, you should never fund those types of businesses. I think that’s completely wrong. Totally backwards and wrong and so that’s a you know, that’s a big driver for me so too is sort of you know, I have a chip on my shoulder kind of regarding my history with Moz and I think I need to prove to myself and to a few people that I can do this again right. That I can build a successful software business, that I’m capable of being a high-quality CEO who can deliver impressive results and you know, that maybe there’s some people in my past who made mistakes about me.
[24:52] John Lincoln: That’s really interesting and I mean there’s no question about it. I’ve seen you speak, I’ve seen your drive, your passion, your transparency right, and the proving people wrong, it’s so funny to hear you say that. When I was at this company as a marketing manager over a decade ago I remember I was doing all this general marketing and I was doing the SEO and I had worked on a variety of websites and taken this one brand new site in six months from nothing to 6,000 visitors a month, and I was so happy about it and my director of marketing there came in and said, you know John we’re going to take that SEO role away from. You don’t really understand SEO that well. That position was given to somebody else, but that desire to prove somebody wrong lead me to go be a director of SEO at another company, then start an SEO company which is now you know, the number one ranked on Clutch’s and Search Marketer of the Year. So I definitely feel that the heart and drive that comes from you know, a good battle wound you know in some ways? And I think in some ways that ends up really creating the biggest success stories out there you know. So drive can definitely be a good thing. The other thing that you mentioned are definitely good drivers as well and thanks so much for sharing that with us. Excited to see where that goes.
[26:16] Rand Fishkin: Yeah thanks me too. I you know, I don’t have the confidence that you have about whether it’s going to definitely feel that strong motivation to try and I think that yeah, I think Casey and I have a real shot right, as good a shot as any venture backed firm for sure.
[26:35] John Lincoln: Absolutely. So we’re kind of talking about a couple different things here and it’s really interesting stuff. You know, one of the things that that you have always been so good at is identifying you know, what’s coming next and always a thought leader and that’s one reason I’ve always loved chatting with you.
So, shifting gears a little bit you know, where are you seeing some of the biggest successes in marketing right now? Like what are you excited about? I mean is a chat bot, is it SEO, is it paid media? Like just kind of top of mind like where’s your head going there?
[27:11] Rand Fishkin: It is not chatbots.
[27:17] John Lincoln: You hate chat bots? are you anti-chat bots?
[27:20] Rand Fishkin: No. No I don’t think I’m anti chat bots. I think that chat bots are a very niche technology and tool that can be applied in some niche situations with a small amount of success. But it’s not, you know, revolutionary, going to change the future of business, right, everybody needs one. I view them a little bit like mobile apps right so I think that the mobile app world is sort of a oh it’s a framework that lets you do a little bit more things with a mobile device than what the browser allows but most people have fewer than 40 mobile apps on their phone. They’re almost all the same ones as everyone else almost no one fires up more 10 and a week, and 10 different ones in a week and with the exception of games there’s no longtail right? So I think chat bots are kind of like that right, there’s a few areas of application where they’re handy and useful and sort of the rest is non-existent long tail of chat bots.
What I am excited about, I am very excited about podcasts. I know that’s you know, that seems somewhat appropriate given we’re chatting here on a podcast but I think that something the Pew Internet and American Life Project said something like 24, 25 percent of Americans had listened to one or more podcasts in the last week. It’s something like 15 percent had listened to four or more in the last month or a unique podcasts in the last month. So I think that there is a global demand for podcasts and I think that the supply is not yet there because there’s not yet good discovery systems for podcasts. No and I don’t think it will take another decade before that happens. I think that companies like Google and many others are going to invest in the podcast face, I think it’s going to be incredibly hot for a long time to come. I think it will be a major media channel for the long term. I think that audio content done well is just powerful and a lot more people will want to engage with it.
Another thing I’m excited about in the web marketing world I think is I am somewhat bullish on sort of visual content over the long term. I think that there will be more platforms and more opportunities for that. Pinterest going public is a small part of that but I think the boom with Instagram is also huge. I suspect that we’re going to see even more you know, investment there than we already have and I think that lots of people underestimate Google images, which Google images is the second largest search engine in the world, behind only Google web search. It’s bigger than YouTube search, it’s bigger than Bing, it’s bigger even than Baidu, which obviously has you know, market dominance in China complete market dominance, but the rest of the world you know, one out of four searches is on Google Images and so there you go. It’s just huge.
[30:53] John Lincoln: Absolutely. And the podcast thing going back to that just real quick. So at Google i/o they released that they are now indexing podcasts for the first time just straight in Google search. I’m sure you’re familiar with that, and this is kind of just for you know Ignite Visibility University, to you guys listening I just want to make sure I got that out there. But since that has happened I have had within the last couple weeks people reaching out to me John how do I optimize, what’s my podcast Google optimization strategy right? And I would be lying if I said that I know but I will figure it out very quickly, and I’ll bet you Rand will be interested in that too and he will be trying to figure it out as well. So maybe there’s a joint blog there, another podcast or webinar down the road I don’t know, but that’s going to become a thing on some level and then just in general like all these different ways to index within Google now for different types of content for like video, for podcasts, for I don’t know feature you know rich results, how images I mean and then you know just like these unique ways to get certain types of business verticals into Google. I mean it’s becoming pretty complicated and SEO is definitely changing so much. I mean so you know Rand, your roots were in SEO. When you think about how SEO is evolving and becoming so complicated and you know, they’re all these different things, trying to find a way to work into the search engine, are there any thoughts that go through your head about you know, I don’t know how where SEO is now, where it’s headed, and what people need to be successful there?
[32:33] Rand Fishkin: Yeah I, I mean I have lots of thoughts. I’ll try and boil it down to you know a few relatively straightforward ones. the first one is that globally so broadly speaking SEO opportunity is slightly smaller than it was a year ago and two years ago. When I say slightly smaller what I mean is that Google is passing fewer clicks than they were a year ago or two years ago and that is primarily driven by what we’ve been calling you know, 0 click searches. Perhaps a better name might be zero traffic searches right? Because essentially someone queries, Google provides the answer, they scrape your website or your websites, they pull that data up and aggregate it and they provide the answer right in the SERP without someone needing to click through to a website. And you know that has grown massively. I think it’s up something like 30% over the last three years, and Google search isn’t growing that fast right? It’s sort of plateaued at least in the developed world it’s plateaued in terms number of searches per searcher. Which is no surprise right, we’re all using Google as much as we realistically can or should. But that does not mean there is no opportunity in Google and in many sectors, especially sectors where there’s growth there is more opportunity than there was three years ago, and so I think that when people see those stats they get scared that you know there’s less SEO opportunity, but that’s at a global broad scale, not a day in your market for your customers and the audience that you’re trying to reach and the innovation that you and your business are doing. And so I said I still think I think actually this is very obvious right in the stats SEO, or Google rather, is the largest traffic driver on the web by a factor of 10x right? Number two Facebook they are ten times smaller a traffic drivers over every hundred visits Google sends Facebook sends ten to other websites. Google sends traffic to the longtail you know all over the demand curve Facebook basically sends it mostly to the top hundreds of thousand publications right, so there is tremendous amount of opportunity left in SEO.
I think if you’re worried about Google taking this opportunity from you, taking clicks from you, there are two big things that you should probably be thinking about: one is on SERP SEO, meaning when someone performs a search query and that query can be answered right in Google search results, especially on a mobile screen right where there’s not that much real estate, what you really want to do is not say oh well we can’t get any clicks so we’re giving up. What you want to do is say, “how do we want to influence the people who perform those searches and what could we have on Google search results that would influence them in the way that we want even if we can’t measure it perfectly right because it’s not on our website anymore”. And on SERP SEO I think that’s where a lot of smart dollars, smart effort is going. It’s moving away from purely measuring SEO in terms of traffic and conversions to also measuring how many people perform the search query and do we have the message that we want front and center in the search result?
[36:19] John Lincoln: I really like that. That’s great information. Everybody I hope you appreciate that info. I mean you think about what Ran just broke down right there you know, you’re thinking about well you know new industries awareness right you’re creating a whole new you know, amount of searches that you know are happening and are not competitive, yet you’ve got other industries that are more saturated you know, within the United States and other certain markets. You know that the growth of Google searches is slowing a little bit but internationally it’s rising for the first time, and you know when it is the rich result making sure that you have the right messaging there I think you know that’s getting pulled into speaking of step further the Google assistant and that might be opportunities for you to create Google Actions around you know, some of those rich results there so that you can actually manipulate specifically what’s going on with the assistant side of things as well and so that’s changing quite a bit and you know I kind of took it in a little bit of a different direction there in regards to voice search and that’s just something I’ve been thinking a lot about and thinking about these Google actions and assistance and Alexa and stuff like that I mean ran do you think voice is that something you’re excited about is that something you’re looking towards or do you feel like that’s not going to be a major important thing for marketers and moving forward what are your thoughts on the voice side?
[37:46] Rand Fishkin: I’m a little bit of a, not a naysayer when it comes to voice. So look okay here’s what I believe. Many people are new voice searchers, I think that there will be many more people doing voice searches and I don’t think it matters whether you do a search with your voice or whether you do it with your fingers. I don’t think it matters one bit. There’s just no you know, when marketers and I hear a lot of marketers say right after every conference I go to there’s a session on how voice search is transforming everything. I don’t think it makes a difference at all. you get a screen of results back. The screen of results is based on the input. Maybe the thing that you say is going to be slightly different than the thing that you type and so great marketers have to do keyword research just like they’ve always done to see what people are typing in or saying to their browsers, to their search devices. I don’t think voice search changes the equation at all. what I do is that two things will happen. I think one, people believe that because voice search is happening somehow the results are going to be different than what they would be if you type the same thing in, maybe that is happening. I’m here to tell you that’s not true, at least not yet. You’re relatively safe there. And then this second thing is that I think many people conflate voice answers or voice only devices with voice search, meaning you know what about my Google home what about my Alexa device what about Siri you know when they speak back and answer to me isn’t that cannibalistic of you know, whatever broader web search and I think the answer in those cases is yes sometimes, but frankly those are pretty much the same search results where no one was going to click through anyway. And so it is less concerning if you want to know well, but how do I influence those? The answer is the same as it is for on SERP SEO its own the featured snippet on the SERPs have your message sort of front and center but yeah I’m not a I’m not a big believer that voice search changes much of anything.
[40:11] John Lincoln: So I agree with what you said there. I would say 95% and the only other you know kind of 5% you know and by the way I am one of those speakers. I’m speaking at SMX on voice search so you know even just last week I think I completed this 60 page deck on it and so I’ve just spent so much time and you –
[40:33] Rand Fishkin: When you get on stage at SMX you should stand up and be like this session is useless and cancelled.
[40:41] John Lincoln: Rand told me to cancel the session.
[40:44] Rand Fishkin: And then do your deck you know right but just like just shock everyone right at the start, yeah this is completely irrelevant and listen to the podcast to figure out why and then I’ll get a couple more listeners.
[41:02] John Lincoln: So you know I believe Dialogflow, which is this new way that Google is creating ways that you can create Dialogflows through Google actions, through Alexa through chat botts, through ad lingo, through all these different devices. Basically chat interactive features is going to be in a way kind of the future of marketing and all marketers will have their own Dialogflows which will be kind of a central way that they interact with customers before they hand it off to a live person, and the only way that I think that that relates to that kind of five percent of why I think voice is changing things quite a bit is because of this idea of Google actions and the Google actions console and creating your own Dialogflow. And I think that as people use voice they’re going to use the Assistant more and more, and so because of that it changes a little bit over the next five years about you know five to ten percent a year from Google SEO optimization to Google assistant optimization in trying to create your own Google action and that whole type of thing at least it’s moving in that direction. But it’s pretty far out. I do find voice interesting also because of the way that it maps certain data. Like 35% of all voice searches are for local based information and needing to be connected to Google my business so that it gets served. So just a couple interesting points I wanted to point out there but actually really happy to hear your perspective on it because I do think a lot of people get so caught up in this buzz worthy stuff and it’s almost like this fear mongering in a way that gets marketers scared so that they try to you know, invest in things that maybe they shouldn’t be investing in, whether it’s not a big return yet so those that’s great insight Rand appreciate that.
[43:00] Rand Fishkin: There are two things I’d say. One, I think it’s a perfect analogy with the mobile you know mobile first index right? I can’t remember how many years it was, I want to say was four years maybe even five, where every year was next year at Google is going to be moving to a mobile first index and this is going to change everything and we’re going to have you know six sessions at every conference about mobile first and what it means and what did it mean it man you should make your website fast and look good on a mobile device which same advice in 2008 as it was in 2016 and just yeah I cannot fathom how many wasted hours you know hundreds of thousands of hours people spent basically saying like here’s going to be the future of mobile here’s what you’re going to have to do blah blah blah blah and I think the second part is that the lesson to extract from my mind over the last you know 20 years that I’ve been in marketing or so is that every time there is something that is hyped for the future, I think that there’s a certain number of the business world who should pay attention to it right people who are thinking about future developments and have to consider the implications for that but I don’t think marketing is one of them. I think marketing is actually much more successful marketers are much more successful when they are followers of trends rather than at the, at the cutting edge is fine but any further in front of that right trying to lead trends is actually really dangerous right this is what gets us spending all of our energy and effort on Google+ or spending all of our energy and effort on chatbots or spending all of our energy and effort on VR and/or AR or those kinds of things right and I think that marketers instead should look at hey where does my audience pay attention now? how did they use things now? how do they engage now? let me optimize for that that will reach the largest percent of my audience for the longest time and then as something new comes out and gets a lot of adoption I will then do marketing for it but not before. I think doing it before is actually spinning your wheels in a lot of ways. if it’s you know if it’s a personal project or it’s for passion or interest awesome great like go for it don’t let it stop you. but if it’s for your clients or your business there’s probably more optimal ways you should be spending your time in dollars.
[45:42] John Lincoln: Yeah I agree with that and in some part of this digital marketing mastermind group of a couple of them I’m sure you are too, you know in groups like that I to this to three-day event and it was okay here’s 4,000 things you can do online for digital marketing you know, just complete information dump overload, I was completely overwhelmed. Much of the stuff you know I had considered before but it was just bringing it all up again and again. And I kind of left and I walked away and I thought well our traffic’s up, you know, a couple hundred percent year-over-year. What we’re doing is working and I just, the shiny object syndrome is really something to watch out for. So that’s not completely what you’re saying but in some ways. And so I shift gears a little bit. A couple more questions for you –
[46:35] Rand Fishkin: I worry about shiny objects plus futurism, right? That yeah, I think that combination is particularly dangerous because I think shiny object syndrome plus you know places where people where an audience actually is engaging, like for example maybe your business does not have a podcast right now and you hear John and Rand on this podcast talking about how hot they are and you think gosh maybe we should invest, maybe we should get into that. Yeah okay that’s a little bit shiny object syndrome but it’s not that dangerous because chances are good that somewhere between ten and twenty five percent of your audience or more is actively listening to podcast now or might listen to yours.
What’s dangerous is this shiny object syndrome plus futurism thing that no one is engaging with yet, or that 1% or a tenth of a percent of people are. That’s where I think you get really dangerous like going after, “oh man you know what how do we do some voice enabled actions for Alexa based marketing yep oh my god what are you talking about like you know how people are going to possibly use that” and do you think that if you build a great system for Alexa that many people use Amazon is just going to be like well they did a great job props to them let’s not touch it. You must be joking you must be mad. Amazon is obviously like whatever you build for Alexa through Google right, you built something awesome for Google Voice something that solves a lot of people’s problems that does a great job guess what Google’s going to do? They’re going to copy it. They are obviously going to copy it and build a better one and build the default one and why did you do all that work? Oops I don’t know I think he’s a little mad to me to sort of be like don’t know Google would never they would never enter our sphere.
[48:34] John Lincoln: Well if history repeats itself they will absolutely do that because if you look at just the normal Google search engine right now they basically built Wikipedia. They’re building hotel booking engines, restaurant engines, answers to medical. They’ve basically cannibalized any industry they felt like spending the time into to generate more revenue so you’re absolutely right.
[48:57] Rand Fishkin: And they’re going to do that again and again, right? One of my favorite case studies is, if you google celebrity net worth and what Google did to them, I think that is the perfect case study for what will happen to a lot of folks who kind of invest in these short form easy, you know, easy questions to ask and easy answers to provide. I think that if you’re in marketing, especially in content marketing or in voice actions or in you know answering questions from consumers from your audience, you need to build a moat by investing in content that Google cannot easily cannibalize and that’s getting harder and harder because Google is getting more sophisticated at it.
[49:52] John Lincoln: Yeah you’re absolutely correct on that one. And so creating content people actually want to interact with within your own environment using the additional you know, abilities out there to promote it, get people back, then building your own audience and then investing in your own audience over time. And just to go on record I agree with Rand. Don’t go out there and start building Dialogflow because the shiny object syndrome Dialogflow chat bot, Alexa, action just because we brought it up on this podcast.
So a couple more things I want to mention here, you know so you had the book come out and the book I just loved. I literally love the transparency. I just think it’s so helpful and as I’ve grown in my career I’ve tried to become more transparent as well. I’ve been historically very rigid very you know businessman you know what I put out online is just very that is what it is right? You’ve kind of taken the opposite approach and so in this book Lost and Founder you put it out there you talked about your story you know now it’s out there you getting some good reviews like how did it feel creating it now that it’s out there are you happy with the way that it’s come out talk to me about that just a little bit.
[51:04] Rand Fishkin: Yeah no. I actually I feel like I’d an extraordinarily pop is the positive experience both writing and getting a book published and then sort of seeing how it’s performed. I think it’s been out about ten months now, yeah, and done reasonably well. I’m sure my publisher would like it to do better but as far as I’m concerned I’m in a very happy place with the book. To your point right the reviews have been extraordinarily positive. I think even people who have disliked me publicly in the past have sort of been like oh I kind of have to give him the book it was pretty good. But yeah I think the you know, the process of writing a book is very intense. It was extremely I would say difficult and challenging but worthwhile process. It’s what you know, speaking to our earlier point one of the first questions you asked me was about like drive and motivation and the book is one of those where I actually feel like hell you know I kind of put in my best effort and produced a product that I’m proud of and that almost never happens. So I’m very grateful for that. You know I think that it’s not that Lost and Foundder is a perfect book but I think it is close to the best book that I could have written, and based on the feedback that I’ve gotten from lots of entrepreneurs who read it right just very helpful to exactly the people that I wanted to help and that’s me.
[52:44] John Lincoln: Well that was going to be my question for you there. It’s like one of the things that just drives me in life is you know, we made that movie you were and we made another one you know, if you haven’t seen a scary movie check it out that was fun. I just love creating creative works and unleashing it and helping people, like that just gets me pumped up. And so like who are you trying to target with this book, who are you trying to help? Like just so everybody on the podcast is listening like who’s really the right person for this book and why do you think?
[53:15] Rand Fishkin: Yeah I mean I wrote it for three kinds of folks: people who are considering building their own businesses of any kind, definitely not just venture backed although certainly for those folks as well because it does include experiences with the venture-backed startup world, people who are going to work in early-stage or mid sage scaling startups right companies that are trying to get off the ground and the people who are part of those teams, and then folks who are essentially in the ecosystem of helping or working with or around the startup world right? So everyone from lawyers to investors to service providers and all those types of folks but yeah it’s been kind of funny. Even though those are the sort of three core audiences right I intentionally wrote the book toward and that my publisher sort of targeted it’s been fascinating to see who’s picked it up and read it. There were a bunch of reading groups at hospitals in I think this was in Ohio and I got some emails from some of the doctors who were part of these readers and they said they picked up Lost and Founder because it was recommended to them and they really liked it and they wrote to me like saying basically oh you know I didn’t realize that this applied to the startup world as well because it you know, it felt like this was just a thing that happened in hospitals and in the medical industry. I just spoke at a medical conference down in California last week, I think it was and part of that was them you know, finding my book and so yeah it’s been, it’s been fascinating to see where it goes and who it impacts. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about creative works is that you don’t you know you have in your mind who this is going to be helpful to but you never know where it can get to.
[55:15] John Lincoln: I love that. Ignite Visibility University that’s a key takeaway I want everybody to think about today. Would you put yourself out there, when you make the commitment in your life to put yourself out there, you never know who you’re going to impact in a positive way. I mean when I started I was 25. I was terrible, I’m still terrible right but I’ll put myself out there. Rand puts himself out there. I’ll get messages from people around the world who just like watching the video or listening to something like this so I encourage people. Life is short, put yourself out there, make something creative that you’re passionate about and that’s exactly what Rand did with this book and so you know random last question I have for you today, and thank you so much for taking the time to help others and to talk to us about where you’re at. What are you most excited about in your life right now? What’s coming up, anything that our audience can look out for and be excited about just to kind of see as you progress in your career and in life?
[56:13] Rand Fishkin: Yeah I mean I mean professionally speaking like I said knock on wood, I think the SparkToro beta is only four or five, six weeks away and that’s looming large for Casey and I. We’re very excited about that if you if you want to get on the list for the Spark to our beta, if you go to sparktoro.com you can you can click on the what we’re building page and there’s a little place to enter your email. Then
apart from that my wife Geraldine and I are going to Ashland Oregon in June for our first vacation in a while. We’re going to go see some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival which I’m really excited about and yeah, if you are if you’re looking to follow and sort of keep up with my curmudgeonly rarrrr here’s what Google’s doing wrong along with lots of other interesting things about the marketing world the best place is Twitter where I’m @Randfish.
[57:19] John Lincoln: Awesome Rand. Thank you so much we really appreciate your time today and for taking the time to be on Ignite Visibility University. That’s it and thanks again, we appreciate you man.
[57:30] Rand Fishkin: Oh thank you John it was wonderful being here.