Rand Fishkin on building a business in the online marketing world

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Joost de Valk: Hello and welcome to the Yoast SEO podcast. This week we have a guest that has been a friend for a long time. We go back to SMX Stockholm in 2009, I think, which is an incredibly long time ago. I bring you Rand Fishkin the founder of Moz and more recently SparkToro, which I’m guessing we’re going to talk about. How are you Rand?

Rand Fishkin:  I’m good, Joost thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Joost de Valk: It’s great for you to be here. I think you were actually one of the few people so far that I think has also been on my previous podcast, which was like nine years ago.

Rand Fishkin: Amazing. You were an early adopter of the podcast trend.

Joost de Valk: Yeah and then stopped.

Rand Fishkin: Fair enough. 

Joost de Valk: Which is never a good thing to do.

Rand Fishkin: I know. I need to get back to video myself. I just ordered a ton of video equipment to set up a new video series because it’s been too many years since Whiteboard Friday.

Joost de Valk: That inspired us. We have a full recording studio in our offices here at Yoast and we’re currently hiring two video editors, to complete our team a bit more. Video is definitely something that we spend a lot of time and effort on. 

Rand Fishkin: I think that’s a really wise investment.

What is SparkToro?

Joost de Valk: It looks like it was, yeah. How is SparkToro doing? Tell us! What is SparkToro for those that don’t know it and how are you doing?

Rand Fishkin: SparkToro is a market research and audience intelligence tool which really just means that we collect tens of millions of profiles from the social web. So 10 social networks and websites. Then we aggregate all the data about them, toss the PII (personally identifiable information) and so now you can search SparkToro for virtually any describable online audience. We’ll tell you all sorts of things about their behavior and characteristics.

For example, you could say, I want to know what chemical engineers in the UK are watching on YouTube. I want to know what podcasts they listen to. I want to know what websites they visit. I want to know what social accounts they follow. Or I’m interested in people who use the hashtag #indiegaming in California. Or I want to know about people who are illustrators and artists. Or I’m interested in people who follow my competitor’s social account and I want to see what that audience is also paying attention to, maybe I can reach them there. All of those things are available through SparkToro. 

It’s going, I would say reasonably well. It’s not like a skyrocket success. We’ve got about 40,000 users right now. So people who use the product once a month or more. Those are free users. Anyone can sign up for free and use the products, run 10 searches a month. If you need more data, more searches, more features, whatever you can sign up for a paid account. We’ve got about just under 600 paying subscribers. We’ve been profitable since September, which is great. We launched in April. So the first few months were like a very quick rise. Then we’ve been chugging along ever since, and growing the feature set and growing our data and getting some more customers. It is a slow, steady software as a service business. 

Building an online marketing business

Joost de Valk: It does sound good though, because you’ve got a very small team, right?

Rand Fishkin: Yeah. Just me and Casey. Just the two of us and some contractors.

Joost de Valk: Sometimes I’m a bit envious and want to go back to those old days. 

Rand Fishkin: I did the similar to yourself, right? Moz was a 200 plus person company and a couple of different offices and tens of millions of dollars in revenue and tens of thousands of customers. That definitely felt very big capitalist of me. 

Joost de Valk: You even took funding, so that’s where we differ. 

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, we raised a lot of venture, raised 30 million in venture. I don’t miss it one bit. There’s not a single part of that that I miss. I would say I miss the days of maybe sub 50 people. When we were in the 1 to $10 million revenue range. I really enjoyed that, it was a great size, a great feeling. I love the team camaraderie and closeness. 

But as you get bigger, things get more corporate and they get more – I don’t know exactly what to call this – there’s more infighting. There’s more contentiousness between people inside the company. There’s more of a feeling that, you know, rather than engineering is Casey and Devin it’s engineering is the enemy and marketing are the good people or whatever it is. My team is good, their team is bad, that kind of thing. I really dislike that. 

I spent so many months of every year just trying to make internal team culture function well, which I think every CEO does. I know that that is true for virtually every business of scale, but. I don’t like that job.

Joost de Valk: I don’t like that job either, which is why I stood down as CEO two years ago and said to my wife Marieke who luckily does all of that indeed.

Rand Fishkin: She’s incredible by the way. Obviously it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been able to spend time with her, but when we met her Geraldine and I were both blown away. I think you made a very good decision. 

Joost de Valk: I think I did too. Yeah I think one of my best decisions was marrying her. It is incredible to look at her and see her do that, but it’s certainly also not something I enjoyed most. I’m very happy to be doing product and I still get to do some coding because in the end I’m a dev geek. I’m not something else. But as you’re doing this, you’re doing it for the second time. Does that really differ in how you approach building a business? 

Rand Fishkin: Oh, yeah. Everything about spark Toro is completely, almost 180 difference. The only real big similarities are it’s still software that’s in the marketing space that can be purchased as a subscription. It’s still relatively low cost. The lowest price packages start at 50 bucks a month. It’s a self service product, not an enterprise. 

Other than that, everything else is different. Team size, the way we raised funding, our long term goals, what success looks like. For Moz success would really be getting to a hundred million plus in revenue with a 15 to 20% growth rate year over year, and having an IPO or being sold for maybe five to six X that revenue. That would be the minimum bar for success. I don’t know if Moz is going to get there. I wish them well, but seems like a stretch right now for sure. I think they’re in a really tough spot with how the SEO software marketplace has evolved. My success for SparkToro is, if this company gets to a million dollars a year in revenue or two, it’ll be a runaway success for its investors and the founders. That’s just a night and day difference. 

Joost de Valk: I can imagine. I often wonder what success looks like. The funny thing is, because we are not funded, it’s always a very different thing for us because we’re basically completely bootstrapped. But we are in that same space that Moz is in now with 120 employees now and well over 10 million in revenue as well. At some point it becomes a real business and you start looking at those things. It is very interesting to see that.

Rand Fishkin: I think there’s a big focus in especially the venture backed world and the tech world and Silicon Valley and the culture that spreads out from there, that tries to insult and demean small businesses or entrepreneurs who want to stay small. Or those who are trying to build things independently. Or those who don’t want to raise funding, right? And the pejorative they use is you’re a lifestyle business. Oh, that’s adorable. How cute. Let us know when you want to play with the big kids. It’s a very effective shaming strategy and it has got a ton of people in tech believing that if you don’t build a venture style, one in a hundred unicorn 99 failures type of business, that you are abdicating your responsibility and that you are admitting defeat and failure before you’ve even given it a try. It’s just a cultural nightmare. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah and it’s also, I think, a direct result of what capitalism looks like right now. Which is very American based capitalism. Us being from Europe, we’ve always looked at that slightly differently. It’s also because it’s also because our risks are different I think. Even when this goes wrong, I know that my family will still have healthcare. 

Rand Fishkin: Yeah. And that is the opposite in the United States. There’s plenty of people who have decent jobs and make decent livings and it could all vanish in a flash and their lives could be literally turned to struggling in a trailer park to get their diabetes medicine. And that happens to a lot of Americans. 

Are the current big SEO tools competing for the same audience and does that make specialization the way to go?

Joost de Valk: That makes that a whole different ball game. It is interesting what you were saying about Moz and the way the SEO space evolved, because it does seem like we have three, four or five big tools – Semrush, Ahrefs, Moz – all these tools competing for delivering all the tools to everyone. Instead of specializing in a couple of things.

Rand Fishkin: There are specialist tools and I think they actually do pretty darn well. I look at some tools like BuzzSumo, which was bought by Brandwatch or ScreamingFrog which has done very well for themselves for a long time. Or tools like.. what is it? Gosh, I’m like three years out of this space. So the Yoast plugin is very much a tool that people associate with their WordPress site as opposed to that’s a substitute for Moz or that’s a substitute for Ahrefs or a substitute for Semrush.

I think those three, along with maybe a couple others, maybe players like an SEO Clarity or Sistrix or something like that. Those are all playing in that ‘all major SEO things to all people in the cloud for any type of site SMB all the way up to enterprise’. I don’t actually like that game. I don’t like playing the ‘I’m everything to everyone’ I think specialization is a really smart way to go. 

Joost de Valk: Your definition of done becomes a lot clearer when you at that.

Rand Fishkin: Yeah and quality is easier to measure too, right? For years at Moz, I remember the frustration of being like, gosh I talked about this in a Twitter thread a while ago, but SEMrush and Ahrefs were for sure, no doubt about it just crushing Moz on features. They were launching more features all the time, had a much wider suite of data and rows and columns. And Moz had this like oh surely SEOs will care about data accuracy and Moz’ data accuracy is much better, so whatever. Our metrics correlate with rankings better or our rank tracking is far more accurate. So people will choose us for that reason. And that was not true. People don’t give a shit about the accuracy of rankings. Once you get to scale, the accuracy of your ranking data, pfff whatever! Google’s inaccurate, SEMrush is inaccurate, Ahrefs is inaccurate, Moz is inaccurate, maybe less so than the others, but who cares? It doesn’t matter all that much. 

Joost de Valk: For a lot of those things what probably matter most is the trends and whether they can show upwards trends to their customers. 

Rand Fishkin: Yeah. Oh my God. That was one of those weird things where we went well but the rankings went down. Why do they want to see that they went up? Oh, because consultants and even in-house people like to show that things are going up into the right. Maybe we should just say they got more links, even if they didn’t?

The maturity of the SEO space: pay attention and you’ll notice the cycle

Joost de Valk: It is that sort of stupidity that really drives me mad. A lot of the things that I see happen in the SEO space baffle me. We’ve both been in this space, you’re out of it, but I’ve been in the SEO space for 15 years now. I just look at it and the new cycle just repeats. It’s literally like you see these things go by and Barry Schwartz, bless him, post news and you go but didn’t we do this three years ago and six years ago? And it keeps on happening.

Rand Fishkin: Yeah It’s gotten to a mature point. The pattern has emerged and if you’ve been watching long enough, you just feel the same ebb and flow again and again. I’m not sure that it was like that as much from ’97 to 2012, even 2014, there was so much rapid change, right? Just rapid growth of the internet around the world and adoption. Google going from just this really dumb page rank based engine to a very sophisticated, deep learning neural network system and the massive amount of change that happened in there. The introduction of things like Google Maps and YouTube and all the rich snippets and results, the rise of mobile, you had massive truly evolutionary change. But I’m kinda with you. The last six years maybe it felt a little like this is not evolution anymore. It’s just sort of small step changes all in the same direction. 

Joost de Valk: Yeah, it is. And it is all somewhat recognizable. It seems. 

Rand Fishkin: Yeah and I think maybe that’s an advantage that folks can have in this space is that if you study it for a while and you see these patterns repeating, you can predict what the next few years will look like. Then you can make smart decisions about your strategic investments and what’s going to give you a competitive leg up or not. And for me, I don’t know if you’ve played around with SparkToro much? 

Joost de Valk: Oh, not much, but I have played around with it. 

There’s no SEO in SparkToro’s marketing

Rand Fishkin: Oh okay, cool. Our marketing and our focus is very non SEO these days. Which is weird for me because I was in that world for whatever 17 years. We barely rank for any keywords. I wouldn’t say it’s intentional, but it is not where I’m putting my investment.

A lot of my investment these days goes into, I want to be in all of these channels and places and sources of influence that I know can reach potential customers. That’s how they’ll find me. Rather than ranking number one for, I don’t know, audience research tool or something like that. 

Joost de Valk: I can imagine that approach would be very hard to do right now because you’re probably still building up your brand as well. You posted an article about content marketing the other day, that was actually spot on in many ways in how we think about content marketing. It is really fun to see you write about the stuff that we do internally. 

The content marketing stuff only really works when people already trust your brand. When you’ve already got a connection with them, because otherwise you can try and tell them that story, but you’ll have to connect them to your brand as well, in telling them that story and that is really hard.

Rand Fishkin: Yeah. I think it pays tremendously to have someone hear about you in a positive way from some source that they already trust three or four or five times before they go and investigate your product or, check out your website or whatever it is, follow your social channels. I think that SparkToro is probably getting to that point where a lot of people in our potential audience have heard of us a few times. I think we could reasonably invest in content and SEO. But with a team of two, do you want to put effort into product and sort of distribution and customer support and improving the data or do you want to produce a lot of content and rank for more search phrases? We’ve opted to have Casey spend almost a hundred percent of his time on product investments and I’m probably split five or six different ways between BizDev, training folks, customer support, digital PR, some content, some social and some events. All that kind of stuff. And some product as well. 

We could probably hire an agency to do it. Joost, you’ll be surprised I tried to convince Casey last fall to invest like six or seven grand a month in paying an agency to help us with content and SEO. And he was like, not yet. We don’t have the money for it. He likes being very profitable.

Joost de Valk: As a business that has always just built stuff with what money that we made ourselves, I can totally relate to that.

Rand Fishkin: You and he would  get along.

Joost de Valk: Being profitable is a very good thing. It’s also a very healthy thing to have to build a profitable business and only be able to do that. I do think that is a lot better.

How SparkToro’s audience comparison tool works

I was just in preparation for this. I was looking at SparkToro and one of the things that I wanted to talk about, which I think is really cool, that you’re doing is allowing comparisons between audiences. That’s one of the things that I think will make my team use that tool more. I was comparing, just for research purposes, people that talk about WooCommerce versus people that talk about Shopify. And it’s hilarious to look at that because, some of the terms that they all talk about are SEO and WordPress. And I’m like, why are Shopify users talking about WordPress so much? 

Rand Fishkin: Chances are good, that if you are in that world where you’re.. So the way SparkToro’s database works is, we have a bunch of different ways to search, but if you use the frequently talks about this, this will look for people whose LinkedIn posts, Twitter posts, Instagram posts, a little bit of Facebook, but not as much will have the word or phrase in there multiple times in the last 120 days. So if someone has said, WooCommerce three or four times in the last three or four months, chances are good that they’re thinking about which platform to use, or they have a platform already in there. Offering something across multiple platforms or they’re having conversations in the digital marketing landscape and universe about different platform opportunities. So no surprise that a lot of those are going to include alternatives.

Joost de Valk: Okay, that’s a good explanation actually. It is very useful to look at that. I have to say, I was looking at it and I was going, yeah, this is actually something I might have to look at more often or might actually have to get the team to look at more often because that’s how these things work now. 

Rand introduces a new SparkToro feature that will show change in audience interest over time

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, so one of the features that’s coming probably later this year, I would say another four or five months at the minimum, is tracking over time. So if you said, this audience that talks about WordPress or WooCommerce or Shopify, we want a subscription to be able to see every week what are the new things that each of those audiences are talking about? And what are the new podcasts that are listening to? What are the new hashtags they’re using? What are the new social accounts they started following? What are the new press outlets they started paying attention to? That data has been very valuable to a lot of our subscribers. They don’t want to have to log in and run the search and compare it to last week’s search to see what changed. We should do that for them.

Joost de Valk: Yeah, I want that in an email every Monday morning.

Rand Fishkin: Yeah you want an email every week or every two weeks, however often it’s changing. With all the new stuff that the audience you said you’re interested in is paying attention to. It’s not unlike a Google alert, except it’s more like a market research study done for you every couple of weeks. We considered launching with it, but it was going to push out development like another nine months. And we were like, ooh we could really use a launch and some inflow. 

Publicly launching minimal viable features versus the complete feature?

Joost de Valk: It’s also, but that’s partly maybe my open source background, I’m very much of the launch early and often and release often thing. Launch small stuff, see if people use it and then improve on it rather than trying to build a complete feature. I think that’s what a lot of tools do and it almost never works.

Rand Fishkin: So my perspective on that is, I want that validation as quickly as I can get it, but I don’t want it in public. I think this is much less true if you’re a brand that very few people know, or very few people are paying attention to your launch. You can get away with whatever, right? You can have a very minimally viable product. If a couple hundred people are the people who are paying attention. But if it’s a few thousand or a few tens of thousands and your market is influenced very strongly by those first few thousands of people who are paying attention to your product, it’s really tough to rewrite the story of what you are.

So what I’ve seen, Moz was a good example of this, when we launched products that were poorly received and had the message of this is an MVP and it’ll get better. That was never believed and taken seriously. I just don’t think that’s how people think. Nobody looks at a product and thinks, well that’s a piece of crap from Moz, oh I’m sure it’ll get much better over the next six months. I should come back every month and check it out and see when it gets good. No. People are like, this company is launching crap I should switch to someone else. 

Joost de Valk: It has to be usable, but it doesn’t have to be fully featured. You can add new features. 

How to market new features: target the mass or seek for amplifiers?

The article I just mentioned in which you talk about how you do content marketing research. You’re actually saying you have to think about who’s going to amplify it. But in many ways that’s the same for your product, right? You have to think about the features that people are going to amplify and that people are going to spread. And those are not necessarily always the same features that your mass market is going to use.

Rand Fishkin: That is actually an infuriating frustration I think in B2B SaaS. Because you are building for two audiences, realistically. You’re building for an audience that will help you attract customers and attention and links and people talking about you and word of mouth, and then you are building for the everyday customers who are using this and getting value from it. There’s overlap, it’s a Venn diagram. There’s things that sit in the middle of both of those, but there’s distinct elements in each bucket as well. I think a lot of product builders, a lot of entrepreneurs think almost exclusively about what will my market find valuable, what’s right for my customers and not what will be amplified, what will be talked about and what will get me marketing. When you do that, things take off. 

My favourite example is Zillow, which is a real estate website here in the United States. I think they are in a number of countries now. Zillow basically launched with this idea of let’s offer a Zestimate, which is essentially an estimate of a home’s price and value and worth and anyone can go plug in their address and we’ll provide an estimate. Previously, the only way to do that was like to get a real estate assessment. No one would ever pay for a real estate assessment of somebody else’s house. But everybody was curious what their neighbour’s house was worth. You go visit your friend’s house. It’s really nice. And you wonder how much that house is worth. Now you can go to Zillow and type in their address and here’s some estimate. Who cares if it’s good or not. It doesn’t matter.

Huge marketing success helped them build the real estate media business that then turned into the rest of the product. And that was always their intent. And it was a very marketing thought through product. Which, a lot of products that have had a lot of success the last couple of decades have been that way digitally.

I mean Facebook, there was an argument on Twitter about Mark Zuckerberg, is he really a marketer? He designed the whole Facebook product with marketing in mind. Essentially. 

Joost de Valk: I have a couple of friends high up in Facebook and I have to say some of the very very best marketers in the world I know work there. 

Rand Fishkin: Their approach is a little different than mine, but I will not, I can’t fault their skills. 

Joost de Valk: No. That’s going to be hard. Yeah. It’s funny, because what you mentioned is something that we run into every day. Yoast was made great by SEOs recommending us to everyone. Now we get SEO experts who want features that no normal user will ever use. I can build that for you and I would, but one you’d shoot yourself in the foot. And B every normal user would definitely shoot himself into foot with that feature. There’s a lot of these things where you go yeah, this is hard. How do you cater to both those audiences in a good way? As you grow bigger, it gets harder and harder. I have to say that this was all a lot easier when there were only a hundred thousand people using that plugin. I could relate to that article very well. This goes so much for almost everything that people do. 

Rand Fishkin: It’s true across a lot of fields too. I think it feels very true to us in B2B and in software as a service and serving this sort of world of digital marketers, but in the article I related it to indie games.

A couple of folks working on their machines, just making some game for a phone or for a PC or for the Nintendo switch. The indie gaming world has these sort of people who are influential and have lots of YouTube subscribers or a popular Twitch channel, or whenever they post to the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, it gets tons of attention or they’re influential in the subreddits around indie gaming.

That’s what a ton of customers pay attention to, the potential buyers of indie games. But those people are different from the reviewers, right? Those people are different from the influential individuals who’ve been in the space a long time. I might have a ton of fun within an indie game, but a reviewer can say nah, this is just a clone of this old game from 12 years ago so I’m going to give it a crappy review or  I’m not even going to cover it. Oops. So who are you building for? You’ll never get to the indie game player and buyer if you don’t first reach the influential source – this is true for product builders and entrepreneurs and marketers all – that we have to be able to recognize what that audience distribution looks like, what a market looks like, do our research, understand that field and then play to both sides. 

‘Old’ SEO and marketing principles that still are applicable today and probably will be forever

Joost de Valk: It’s an interesting thing. One of the things that gets me in this and I was very happy to see your post is, as you still talk about keyword research. While the whole SEO space is going like hey we  should talk about topics. And I’m like, yeah, but people still search with keywords. This sort of doesn’t really make sense yet. I get why they want to talk about topics and how all of that works. But the tendency to want to throw away old stuff, because we found a new tool is one of the things that drives me nuts. And as I say it, I find myself sounding like an old geek.

Rand Fishkin: Some people have been making the argument to me recently on Twitter. I think after I shared the results of a poll I did about where you got your marketing education and whether you had a formal degree or not. That post got lots of traction in a subsection of web marketing world of classic marketers. Old school, I think mostly advertising and positioning people. But generally people who feel like you are not a real marketer, unless you got a marketing degree from college and preferably one of these specific colleges. And if you didn’t, you better take their course. 

That idea that marketing hasn’t changed in 50 years, I think is completely wrong. But I do agree with the idea that there are principles of marketing that were useful 50 years ago and are quite useful and applicable today. Right? Both of those things can be simultaneously true. I don’t think you could take a marketer from 1975 and put them in 2021 and expect them to do any decent work in digital at all. But I do agree that there are probably principles and understanding of people’s habits and behaviors and ability to research spaces that are still applicable today.

Joost de Valk: Yeah. So human psychology hasn’t changed all that much in the last 100 years. A lot of the things playing into that I probably still work. That doesn’t mean not all of the tactics changed.

Rand Fishkin: All of the tactics, all of the channels, the ways you do research, the ways you reach people, the things that resonate. You gotta learn those sector by sector, man.

How Rand got such a big Twitter audience and how reach and engagement work for him

Joost de Valk: You spent a lot of time on Twitter I guess, because you have a massive following on Twitter. I was looking it up and I was like, this is insane. 

Rand Fishkin: To be fair, I cheated. I would say that more than half of my Twitter following came because in the early years of Twitter’s growth, I was one of the recommended accounts.

So if you started tweeting about anything in digital marketing @Randfish would be recommended to you as someone to follow. And so between 2009 and 2012, when Twitter was like onboarding people, I was one of the recommended accounts and I probably got a couple hundred thousand followers that way.

Joost de Valk: It’s still impressive, no matter how you try to downplay it. 

Rand Fishkin: Well, I’m just saying. One of the weirdest things, Joost, about my Twitter count versus for example Geraldine’s, she has about a quarter of my followers, maybe a little bit less or more these days. I’m not exactly sure. When she tweets the number of impressions and engagements that her tweets receive on average is 4 to 10 times mine, even though she has a much smaller following. And that’s true for many people with accounts that are a sixth to a tenth my size in terms of following.

That’s just because a ton of my followers were built in previous years. They’re not actually active on Twitter anymore. Something like 30 or 40% of the 450,000 people who follow me, haven’t logged into Twitter in a year. So you get a little bit of a biased perspective there, and this is actually one of the reasons that SparkToro built the fake followers tool. We have this fake followers tool where you can analyze a Twitter account and be like, wait a minute 30% of Randfishes followers are not active on the platform. He more realistically has 280,000 followers, not 450 or something.

Joost de Valk: It’s funny. The Yoast account is my old private Twitter account and I moved myself to @Jdevalk. So I have 12,5 thousand followers and the Yoast account has a 100K something. The Yoast account gets so much less impressions on some of that stuff than I do, it’s hilarious. But it is a very different world. I know a lot of my tweets are very geeky and I don’t to bore our Yoast users.

Rand Fishkin: I’m reading the exciting tweets you send, like What if we combined oEmbed, the idea of facades and also made oEmbed URLs contain the Schema JSON+LD for the page you’re embedding? And yet, you’ve got some engagement on that. 

Joost de Valk: That is actually a serious idea. 

Rand Fishkin: Oh yeah I am not arguing! 

Joost de Valk: I don’t know whether you know what it is, but the funny thing is that the engagement I got on that was exactly the engagement I needed. It was retweeted by Dan Brickley, who runs schema.org. It was responded to by everyone who needs to basically okay that idea to get it into a web standard. So we can just build a web standard. That’s the way I roll! 

Rand Fishkin: You are not just using Twitter for marketing. You’re actually changing the marketplace for the better.

Joost de Valk: That is what I’m trying to do. Facades are awesome by the way. The idea of facades is that if you embed a YouTube video, you’d first get just an image that you have to click on to get the YouTube player loaded. 

Rand Fishkin: So you save a ton of bandwidth.

Joost de Valk: You save a ton of bandwidth and you respect people’s privacy by not actually loading the tracker.

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, you don’t have to send the data to Google every time the page loads. I love that. 

Joost de Valk: Exactly. This is an idea by Google. I liked the idea, but let’s make this a bit more usable for people. People seem to agree to the idea. I really liked that and as I said, I’m a developer and a geek more than a marketer even I think. Although I do try to play both of those things. To me, Twitter is very much a thing to reach those audiences, but it’s a very specific piece of the audience. 

What channels are important to Rand?

Is Twitter your echo chamber? Is that where you get most of your ideas?

Rand Fishkin: Ooh, that’s a good question. I would say my three sort of primary it’s four really. I am most active in my email. 80% of my work is just in an email. I’m generally very fast on email. I almost never have a message that sits in my inbox for 24 hours. I’m an inbox zero addict. And then a combination of Twitter and LinkedIn are like my two primary social networks that I use for work. I do use some Instagram and Facebook and actually some more Reddit recently. Although Reddit isn’t getting much more of a consume and understand the market versus participatory on my part. I don’t think Reddit doesn’t seem to particularly like having, for whatever reason, building or amplifying sources of influence. There’s a lot of kind of anti influence culture on Reddit, which is fine. 

The fourth one for me is really what we’re doing right now, it’s podcasts and webinars and interviews and discussions, and video chats and online events. And that’s been a little bit of a sanity saver for the last year during quarantine but also a great way to generate ideas. I think that folks who say there’s no substitute for getting in a room with a whiteboard with another person and like bouncing ideas off each other. I disagree. I think video chatting or even just phone calls, you can do a ton of that. I do a lot of that as well with our customers or potential customers or influential folks in the field like yourself, just having these types of chats and going down rabbit holes of this is really interesting, that really resonated with the audience, that turned into a fascinating audiogram clip from that podcast that I did, and maybe I should write something about that. Or maybe I should think about how that is relevant to the product, right?

Our little chat about, tracking things over time and your use of the comparison tool. Maybe I should talk to Casey about should we track comparisons over time as well as individual searches, it feels like it’s relevant. All of those are relevant channels for me. I am relatively active on Twitter, but not, I’m probably 40 tweets some week, something like that, maybe less.

Joost de Valk: That is about 10 times mine or my activity I have to say. I am much more of a reader than a writer on Twitter and it’s going down more than up. But funnily enough, I dunno whether it has been the same for you, but during this whole pandemic, I actually probably slowed down on social more than I actually sped up. Because I have less to share, but.. 

Rand Fishkin: Yeah, for sure. The first six to nine months I was definitely in that world. Then as it became a little more normalized, this year, even just the past two months January and February I’ve gotten a little more back into the usual swing. Part of that too is just American politics last year were brutal and overwhelming and Byzantine.

Joost de Valk: Yeah we’ve been watching, 

Rand Fishkin: You mentioned things don’t change all that much in a hundred years. I spent time with my 94 year old grandfather now, who’s of course Jewish and fled Europe and all that kind of stuff. I talk to him twice or three times a week and he looked at the last few years and just was like, holy shit. Not again, like gal, how did this happen here? I thought we were better than this. He can be a little pessimistic about that stuff, but I think you’re absolutely right that a lot of these mental models and psychology, it doesn’t change over a hundred years. People are scared of change, they’re scared of outsiders, they can be very insular, especially when they feel threatened. The more financially insecure people are, the more that certain types of propaganda works on them. Yeah it’s really sad. 

Joost de Valk: It’s sad, but it’s also the ways we can get out of it have been the same for a long time as well. If we studied those then we might be able to use that to our advantage. 

Joost explains what WordProof does

One of the things I spend quite a bit of my time on is WordProof. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s a startup that does timestamping on the blockchain of content. So you can prove that you’ve published something at a particular moment in time. And really prove it. So I can really prove through a third-party source that I published something on a particular moment, which is good for news, but also for stupid things like terms of service. 

One of the concepts that we’re talking about a lot there is the trusted web. How do we get back to people trusting what they read? And what I find funny is that one of the tools we offer is a revision history of articles. Then there’s a lot of publishers out there that don’t want to show the revision history of their articles. Whereas in the past, when it was still a newspaper, it was printed. They could not undo what they did. 

Rand Fishkin: Yeah much more challenging.

Joost de Valk: So they just had to retract and say, okay, we made a mistake and we fixed it. Now they don’t want to show our readers the mistakes they made. I’m like, why not? What’s so hard about this? I think some way of forcing some of that back into the web would actually be a very good way of opening all of this up.

If everyone had to write again while thinking that what they were doing would last forever and would haunt them forever if they did it wrong. Then maybe they think of it more about what they put out there. Oh, you’ve seen some of their worst stuff as well, Geraldine probably even more. I think we can bring some of that a bit back, but there’s a lot of discussion there. It’s an interesting time. Hopefully we will be able to bring some of that trust back to the web at some point. 

Rand Fishkin: It’s definitely nice to feel like the last month and a half or so have been a little more sane and normal. I don’t have to read the news obsessively anymore. I feel a little more freed from this sort of malaise and weight of hatred and incompetence that was surrounding us for a long time.

Joost de Valk: Yeah let’s hope it stays that way. I’m with you there. Rand, we’ve been talking for 45 minutes and that’s about where I want to cut this off, but it’s been so wonderful talking to you.

Rand Fishkin: It is fantastic to catch up. Great to hear that things are going well with Yoast and to hear about the different projects you’re investing in. Joost you know I am a fan and a supporter and if there’s anything I can do to help you or your audience, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. 

Joost de Valk: We won’t! If you don’t know where to follow Rand Fishkin it’s @Randfish on Twitter @SparkToro is definitely something you should check out. We’ll include it in the show notes, of course. Thank you all for listening and see you again in about two weeks.

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