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Podcast: ft. Rand Fishkin - How Trust and Influence are Redefining Digital Advertising

NetWise Nov 10, 2021 6:34:58 PM

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Show Notes:

Rand Fishkin, CEO of SparkToro, former founder and CEO of Moz, author of Lost and Founder, and video game creator popped into the data basement to chat with Brian and Mark. SparkToro identifies your customers' biggest sources of influence, and the hidden gems⁠—so you can reach them where they hang out.
 
A few highlights from the chat:
  • Rand dropped out of college to start Moz with his mother. They grew it to $40M revenue. He left in 2018 after writing a book about his experience.
  • Moz was started by blogging about SEO.
  • SparkToro enables marketers to do audience research quickly and accurately and at scale with numbers they can trust.
  • Creativity is blossoming in every profession.
  • There is value in innovation, being creative, and not being traditional.
  • The barrier to entry into Marketing has been lowered. One can learn to code on YouTube. It's easy to learn art, video, and how to write a blog. The are many more people into the field now.
  • Tech enabled creativity.
  • Looking for what is statistically common and specific to your target market is a complex combo of variables that affects your entire media plan.
  • Influence map - how are people in your universe influenced? What do they pay attention to? How do they discover new products, services and ideas? And, how do they make decisions?
  • "Influencer marketing" has changed throughout the years.
Links:

Transcript:

Brian Jones:

Boom. We're live now, nobody freeze up. All right, I'm going to do the intro, which is... we do it unique each time just so there's no... mostly the same editing. Welcome to... nope. I've never actually hosted before, by the way. I'm usually the guest host. This is the Data-Driven Marketer, sponsored by NetWise. I'm Brian.

Mark Richardson:

I'm Mark.

Rand Fishkin:

I'm Rand.

Brian Jones:

All right. Welcome back to the data basement, everybody. Thanks as always to our listeners, we really appreciate you spending time with us. It means a lot to us, and we this for you. Thank you to our guest this week, Rand Fishkin. Rand, I really appreciate you taking time to hang out with us. It's been really fun so far. I'm excited to chat while we're recording now.

Rand Fishkin:

My pleasure.

Brian Jones:

Do you mind if I throw it to you for a little intro to just talk a little bit about your background?

Rand Fishkin:

Throw away.

Brian Jones:

Awesome. Well, go for it. Tell us what you're up to.

Mark Richardson:

Here's the pitch.

Rand Fishkin:

What am I up to? Let's see, I am currently working on a video game, which is to be announced. I am the Games Director, Creative Director, and also the person funding it, which is fun. Many folks will know me from a company called Moz, which I co-founded and led as CEO for many years. I left that company about four years ago and started a new company in the marketing software business, which I realize NetWise is also, called Sparktoro. Sparktoro does audience research, helps lots of marketers find the sources of influence for their audiences through collecting lots of passive data at scale, not dissimilar to what NetWise does actually, but kind of a self-service product for individual consultants, agencies, and in-house marketers. Then, what else am I doing? I am experimenting with a lot of cocktails and pasta. I'm about to speak at my first conference in almost two years.

Brian Jones:

Wow, that's exciting.

Mark Richardson:

Awesome. Where will that be?

Rand Fishkin:

In real life, obviously, I've done lots of digital events.

Brian Jones:

An actual physical person in a space?

Rand Fishkin:

Yes, but an actual personal event in Milan, Italy, where you have to have a vaccination in order to enter any indoor places. I was like, "Well, okay. That sounds pretty safe." Their caseload in Lombardy, which is the region where Milan is, has collapsed pretty low. I think they had like 345 cases or something last week. I'm feeling relatively safe about going there, maybe a little nervous still.

Mark Richardson:

Better than where we were a year ago.

Rand Fishkin:

Yes, oh my God. Lombardy was hit so hard, just brutal.

Brian Jones:

For the millionth time, what a bizarre time period we've all been living through. This'll be just remembered our whole lives.

Rand Fishkin:

Yes. You guys probably saw the graphic that was making its way around Twitter and LinkedIn yesterday that was... COVID has now been deadlier than all American deaths in all foreign wars combined. I was like, "Oh my God, I just can't."

Mark Richardson:

It's tragic.

Brian Jones:

It is. That's important.

Rand Fishkin:

But, we all know people who've passed away, right?

Brian Jones:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rand Fishkin:

I lost a cousin and three friends, it's just mind numbing the quantity of people who've died.

Brian Jones:

It is. Let me wind it back to the Moz days. Just to kind of set the stage a little bit, how did you get that going? I know you had companies even before that too, but I'm kind of curious... for you personally, what was your involvement? What do you do professionally at the companies you work at?

Rand Fishkin:

Let's see. Moz was my first company. I dropped out of college to basically start that business with my mom, Jillian.

Brian Jones:

Nice.

Rand Fishkin:

Before that, the only places I had worked... I worked at a men's clothing store for a little while in college.

Brian Jones:

Awesome.

Mark Richardson:

I did not get accepted at the men's clothing store I applied to, so you got that one on me.

Rand Fishkin:

It didn't go well. I was their worst salesperson by a good margin.

Brian Jones:

That's hilarious.

Rand Fishkin:

I'm somewhat embarrassed about that. I did build their website though, so that kind of kick-started a lot of my journey into marketing, SEO, and content, all that. At Moz, I started that, Brian, through blogging. I was writing five nights a week, just about search engine optimization at a time when very few people practiced that and there was very little belief that it was a real marketing practice. There was very little trust and faith in it. Mark, you were talking earlier before we started the recording about how untrustworthy the field of SEO was and perceived as very black hat and snake oil. Moz was kind of this... I tried to make it anyway, an Oasis for people who were like, "No, SEO is a real practice. If you earn rankings in Google, you can get lots of traffic. If you do it the right way, Google's not going to penalize you and throw the book at you. There's ways to do it that are not sketchy and spammy." Eventually, that built a very large business.

Rand Fishkin:

I raised some money, some [inaudible 00:05:40] capital, was a CEO for seven years, grew it to about 40 million in revenue, stepped down as CEO, stayed around for a few more years, which was probably a mistake, and then wrote a book about it, which I think Mark has checked out, called "Lost and Founder".

Mark Richardson:

A very compelling read.

Rand Fishkin:

Nice. Then, left the company in 2018.

Brian Jones:

It sounds like you took a very current, modern approach to starting that company maybe by accident, by building community first and trying out ideas and seeing what happens. Then, it's interesting there because... I wasn't sure if you were going to say you were a marketer or a business person or an engineer or what, and Moz is such a technical product. I remember using it 10 years ago when I was starting my first company. I remember being so fascinated by the fact that you had basically a Moz version of Google Page Rank, I think, that I could compare to. I was like, "Man, that seems really technically complex to be building right now as another tech startup."

Rand Fishkin:

I technically own a patent for a version of Page Rank, or a similar system [crosstalk 00:06:59]. Domain authority, Moz rank specifically, and Moz trust, which is sort of modeled on the concept of trust rank. I would not urge any founders in software, especially marketing software, to go get patents now. But at the time, our venture investors were like, "You should go get a patent."

Brian Jones:

Totally. That's hilarious.

Mark Richardson:

Brian, are you getting people to tell you to patent stuff here? I don't know. Brian's one of our... he's our CTO, Chief Engineer, coder extraordinaire.

Brian Jones:

It still gets talked about. It's still a really complex topic for tech businesses because it really serves a valuable component in physical product. I come from a manufacturing background, actually. Patents are really important in other industries, but they're just so complex with software. It's a whole different thing. A lot of people just haven't caught up, the legal system hasn't caught up to that yet.

Rand Fishkin:

I think the world of software patent trolling actually had a huge negative impact on the value and respect that patents get. When we were first applying for them, there were lots of people who were like, "That's really cool that Moz has a patent on this methodology." Within a few years, people were like, "Are you going to start suing other companies? Butt holes."

Brian Jones:

Why is this not in your business plan to be going after people who have invented software on their own that does the same thing? It's a complex problem, for sure.

Mark Richardson:

As if there aren't enough games of whack-a-mole in the marketing sphere.

Rand Fishkin:

If I remember correctly, it was either right as I was leaving the CEO role or just after I'd stepped down, but Moz basically entered into this kind of community-wide agreement that we would only use our patents defensively. I think that's the right way to play it. If you go after people for using similar software technology, there's not a lot of honor or ethics there.

Brian Jones:

I picked up on a lot of intentional progress energy from you, from our original conversation. I love that you drive things like that in your business culture. It's up to business owners to do that.

Rand Fishkin:

Thank you. I'm really proud of that. I would use progressive in all its aspects like Moz was, Sparktoro is, and I think all the projects that I'm involved in are... both that from a political lens, but also from just a... I don't want to do things the way they have been done classically. I think that there is value in innovation. I think there's competitive advantage to be found there. I think it's more fun and exciting and interesting. I like putting on my creative and artistic lens, even when I think about just business model generation.

Brian Jones:

Absolutely.

Mark Richardson:

I was going to say that's a great segue to something we were rapping about in batting practice, which was the shifting landscape, need for creativity, and how technology advancements and innovation are stimulating and motivating creativity, both in the marketing space and in the general information and creative space as well. Maybe we could talk a little bit about how you're seeing technologies spurring creativity in the marketing world.

Rand Fishkin:

Yes. I think that there's a whole bunch of them. One of the biggest ones is just the barrier to entry has been lowered. You can go on YouTube or to 100 websites and learn to code for free from anywhere on the planet if you have an internet connection, a computer, and the ability to... the time and energy to learn from other folks, and the freedom to do that. That's kind of beautiful. I love it. I also love that you can do that with whatever you want, digital art, you can do it with music and sound creation. You can do it with video... might be a little more expensive with video, you need equipment. You can do it with writing a book. You can do it with writing a blog post. You can do it with starting a podcast. The list is just incredibly long, so that barrier to entry has been lowered, which brings a ton more people into the field. You get negative externalities around this, there's like whole bunch of people who have been convinced that lizard people rule pizza dungeons in the government or whatever.

Rand Fishkin:

That's not great, that's a negative externality from a result of anyone can create content and amplify it. But, there's lots of positives from that too. I think a lot of folks would point to social movements around things like drug legalization, or if you are a fan of this... I'm not personally, but I respect people who are. If you love cryptocurrency, you'd be like, "That could not have been enabled 15, 20 years ago" and it is today.

Mark Richardson:

I was saying crypto is kind of big in our listenership, so it's okay. We love a good debate.

Rand Fishkin:

My bias against it does not have to yuck your yum. Maybe you like peanut butter and banana sandwiches, I don't have to like them for you to enjoy them. You can get a kick out of cryptocurrency and you don't need me to participate, so awesome, have fun.

Brian Jones:

Yuck your yum is definitely our opening quote for this episode. I love that.

Rand Fishkin:

Generally, I don't like to yuck anybody else's yum.

Brian Jones:

That's super nice.

Rand Fishkin:

The only time I don't like it is when it harms other people. If you have your thing and it doesn't hurt anybody else, awesome. I love it. Go for it. If you want to wear Hawaiian shirts every day and party like it's 1999, don't let me stop you, Prince was great. But, I have my own style that's great too.

Mark Richardson:

I was going to say this, it seemed like we had a good connection around... and the ability to kind of spin up your own thought leadership channel, this democratization of data, of technology has enabled, like you said, some nefarious players or conspiracy type players in the space. But I think more often than not the beauty of the internet and the beauty of tools like Moz and Sparktoro is that it allows people who are just an individual creator, an individual entrepreneur to go out and take what's in their brain, take these big ideas, and see... is there a community out there? Validate that. Am I the person educating? Am I the person being educated? What are the lessons I've learned from that? I think ultimately, that's what we were all hoping social media would do for us and not turn us into backstabbing ogres.

Rand Fishkin:

It's done both, right?

Brian Jones:

Right.

Rand Fishkin:

I think this is just how a lot of technological progress goes. I don't know if you've ever read examples from kind of European Middle Ages stuff where people are complaining about literacy. "Oh no, too many people, farmers, peasants, and folks are learning to read. This will be the end of modern civilization as we know it because once they learn to read and write, they'll spread all these terrible ideas and yada yada." Generally speaking, people learning to read and write is now viewed as a universal right, unless you're the Taliban in Afghanistan or something. But, almost everybody else is like, "Yes, this is a good thing." I kind of hope that if we progress the timeline out far enough, there will be this... everyone being able to be a creator is good. Content moderation guidelines are good, regulating algorithms that optimize for engagement is good. We find our healthy balance in this new world. Is there a lot of turmoil around it right now? Absolutely. Is there a lot of opportunity? Definitely.

Brian Jones:

Tremendous.

Mark Richardson:

It's huge.

Brian Jones:

I think it's really important to remember that both things happen with technology and with everything. I always like the concept of kind of considering everything to be technology, like the universe is a technology at a fundamental level. Creatures, we're creatures. We can always do good or bad, and even that is debatable depending on the situation. I find it interesting... to bring it back into marketing a little bit specifically, there's a lot of the same issues. If we avoid the real specific of like Facebook's doing this or Google's doing this, just within marketing from a business perspective from how we operationally do our jobs as marketers, there's a lot of that same debate. It's like, what is okay for marketers to leverage in terms of data and information about individuals and businesses? Where can you get that from? How can you use it? What should we be doing with it? Are you running into things like that? How are you thinking about that with Sparktoro?

Rand Fishkin:

Great question because Sparktoro is obviously built on, essentially, people's public social and web profile data. We crawl 10 different social networks, websites, about pages, that kind of stuff, and then we'd try and link them all up and then make that indexable. We anonymize it, of course, so that you can't go find... "Well, here's Brian, here's Mark, here's Jess, and here's Rand." But rather that... "I want to see what people in higher education in Michigan follow online." It's like, we're going to take 752 profiles that match... I'm in the higher ed industry and I'm in Michigan, what YouTube channels they subscribe to the most. All right, well, 71 subscribed to this channel, so 10%, that's our estimate. Then, you get data like that. But to your point, we had to jump through a bunch of legal hoops early on around this stuff, both GDPR, as well as some other EU privacy laws, and then California Privacy Protection. Sorry, is it CCPA?

Mark Richardson:

CCPA.

Brian Jones:

Consumer Protection Act, something like that.

Rand Fishkin:

Yes. I think that there's good and bad things about that. If I were writing GDPR, there's no way I would structure it the way it is because it basically says... it's sort of a declaration from Europe. They're like, "We promise we'll never make a company that competes effectively against Google and Facebook. We swear to God, we'll never compete with you, American companies." You look into the depths of it and you can see that Google and Facebook funded the researchers who advised the EU Council that created it. You're like, "Hey, wait a minute." I love you guys [crosstalk 00:18:12], you guys are fun.

Mark Richardson:

Back-looping me.

Rand Fishkin:

Yes. There's some misaligned incentives there, and that's been frustrating. I think there's good things that it includes around email protection and that sort of stuff. But by and large, that has been a process where, thankfully, a little bit... some of the work that Google actually pioneered where they basically said, "Hey, if Google is allowed to crawl and index your website and then show data on its website so is anybody else who crawls and indexes the web." If you make things public on the web... I think there was a case against... I believe LinkedIn was suing someone who crawled their data. The judge was like, "This is public data." People are allowed to visit these pages publicly, which means a machine can visit them fast and then show that data to someone just like Google can or Yahoo or Bing or askjeeves.com or whoever. They're all allowed. I don't think AskJeeves still exists.

Mark Richardson:

The good old days.

Brian Jones:

You touched on a really important part, kind of back to the tech enabling creativity. This is one of those places where the technology comes in, and it's just doing something that we used to do ourselves. I would go read a bunch of websites, but now a computer can do it a billion times a day, and you know that super well from all the work you've done with Moz. That completely changes how things work. It changes how we produce content. It changes how the content gets disseminated. It changes how we moderate economic incentives for businesses and creatives. That just totally upends traditional structures in so many ways. What's your goal with Sparktoro right now? How does that play into the space because you're consuming a tremendous amount of information? It's actually interesting, too, because you said you're only three people, but you're doing something that 10 years ago would've taken a unicorn to be doing.

Mark Richardson:

I was blown away, by the way, just when you said it's a three person team. I'm still in a state of shock that you're such a robust platform. It's really impressive.

Rand Fishkin:

Three months ago, there were only two of us. Basic story there, my goal is help marketers do audience research more quickly, far more accurately, and at scale with numbers that they can really trust. If you survey 100 higher ed folks in Michigan and ask them what YouTube channels they watch and it's like, "I love the guy who talks about, 'Have you checked your butt hole?'". That's not helpful, that doesn't tell me what people... it could be true that, I think his name is Tom Capper, right? He has a popular YouTube, TikTok presence, whatever Great, I love him. I think he's hilarious. It does not tell me where to do marketing to higher ed professionals in Michigan. What you actually want is you want to... in an ideal world, go get the home addresses of 1000 Michigan higher ed folks, then go to their house, break in, steal their phone and get their unlock code and scroll through their YouTube subscriptions and then copy them all down.

Mark Richardson:

[crosstalk 00:21:48] browsing.

Rand Fishkin:

That is highly illegal and super unethical, even if it were legal, and I cannot recommend against that enough. The alternative is, well, a significant percent of those people say on whatever, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, who they are. It says, they work at a university, whatever, an administrator, blah, blah, blah. You can find their YouTube profile and then you can look at the channels they subscribe to because it's public for many people on YouTube. You'd be like, "Aha, there you go. Look it, these ones are popular." This is not a negative thing. You're not harming any individual person or any group of people, you're simply saying, "Hey, all that data that Google and Facebook hoard about user behavior online, we are going to go get it for you so that you can have it at your fingertips and you can make smart decisions about, do you want to throw your money at Google and Facebook ads?"

Rand Fishkin:

Do you maybe want to go directly to the YouTube channels and the creators that your audience listens to and pays attention to and maybe do some co-marketing with them, or pitch them on being on their show, or reach out and offer to sponsor their thing, whatever you want. Or, "Hey, maybe we could sponsor your email newsletter to your list, whatever." Awesome. These are all great things that marketers should be able to have in their tool boxes. Unless you have that data at your fingertips with real numbers, you just can't justify it.

Brian Jones:

Interesting. Are you focused specifically on the types of content that are harder to get into right now? The two examples you just gave there, podcasts and YouTube, I can't enter that in a technical data driven marketing sense very easily right now, that's very hard to get into with my ads. Is that a space you're particularly interested in?

Rand Fishkin:

Yes, that's exactly right. Podcasts, YouTube, people's organic social feeds, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, YouTube, GitHub, Quora, Medium, Pinterest, we're in all of those places, Instagram, all those. Then, websites and press accounts, essentially press publishers and industry publications. It's kind of discovering that stuff. If you're a marketer and you've been in the higher ed marketing space for like 10 years, you probably know all of these, you have an intuitive understanding of... it's probably these publications, it's probably these channels. You'll find some surprises. You'll be like, "I didn't know that podcast was so popular with our audience or whatever." But in general, you probably have a good... but if you've never done higher ed marketing before and it's your first day and you're an agency and your new client comes to you, you'd be like, "Oh crap, let me just run over to Sparktoro and quickly get this data and understand this field."

Rand Fishkin:

That's really what it's useful for. We're trying to kind of dis-intermediate the data that Google and Facebook already have at their fingertips that they use to kind of lock out the rest of the marketing ecosystem.

Brian Jones:

I love that vision. That's great.

Mark Richardson:

Just from working in this evolving space of growth hacking, growth marketing, and I know the term growth hacking has since hackles up... flywheels, not hacks, I know. But, from being pressed in this... this was two positions ago, six years ago, from being really pressed as, "Hey, you're the guy who knows SEO. You've worked in post, you've worked in sponsored content, integrated marketing partnerships, and link building and stuff." I came onto an app that was looking to increase ARR, and it was one of those things where certain podcasts were doing really well, certain ones were super expensive and bleeding our marketing budget dry. How do you really know how your money is going to perform until you kind of throw it out there and test it? You want to be able to make as informed a decision as you can.

Mark Richardson:

We spent a lot with NPR, assuming, "Hey, they're NPR, obviously, these are highly intelligent, slightly lefty leaning folks." We were a very... SRI investment app at the time called Swell. We thought, "Hey, obviously, that's a direct hit. Of course, it's going to be huge." Nobody, it was like crickets from Marketplace on NPR... nothing against Marketplace, it's a wonderful show. But for some reason, we found our people elsewhere. Maybe if we'd had a tool like this, we would've saved a couple 1000 bucks, but that's...

Rand Fishkin:

I am surprised. One of the reasons... we looked into this because some folks who were using Sparktoro were like, "Gosh, a lot of NPR podcasts, which I would expect to come up, don't come up in your index as often as we would anticipate." We were like, "Oh, let's go dig into that." It's not that they're not popular, the problem is that much like the YouTuber I was mentioning earlier, they're popular with too broad an audience. You're not getting the specificity of the group that you're going after. If you were to just say, "Who's the most followed person on Twitter by higher ed folks in Michigan?" It's Barack Obama. You're like, "That's super not helpful." That's not the number you're looking for, you're not looking for Barack Obama. You are looking for... and number two, before he was banned, would've been Donald Trump. That's not what you're interested in. What you want to know is, compared to a population of everyone else, what is uniquely most followed by this audience?

Rand Fishkin:

That's the math that kind of... it's no math at all, anyone who's done statistics is like, "I can do that in Excel in two minutes." I know you can. It's easy. We do it too, great. But then we can say, "Show me what's uniquely well followed by higher ed folks in Michigan or architects in Los Angeles or chemical engineers in the UK or whatever your audience is that you're going after." That's the kind of... it's not secret sauce, it is transparent sauce. The hot [inaudible 00:28:21] of a secret sauce. But it's super useful because it'll tell you exactly... if you're like, "Hey, I want to find people who are interested in the personal finance world and they tend to be, whatever, in... I don't know, the Northeast of the US, show me those people." Well, I can tell you that they... I don't know, I could look it up, but maybe it's like fool.com, nerd wallet.com, and whatever it is.

Mark Richardson:

Forbes or something. It's finding that highly relevant, highly targeted niche content that is trustworthy.

Rand Fishkin:

This is so much more valuable of a way of doing marketing. As an entrepreneur or a marketer, you want to get in your brain this idea of an influence map, like how are people in my universe influenced? What do they pay attention to? How do they discover new products, services, and ideas? Then, how do they make decisions? Those could all be different. It might be like... a lot of people in our world, they pay attention to these sources, but that's actually not where they get their... I find out about new products from... maybe they get it from Instagram ads. That could be possible in a lot of consumer product goods spaces, like fast fashion especially, Instagram is how people discover stuff, so fine.

Brian Jones:

You're touching on a really relevant concept as an example for what we're trying to get across on this podcast, the Data-Driven Marketer. That the concept of looking for what is statistically common among your target market, but also specific to your target market is a very complex combination of variables that affects a lot of things. It affects what your budget is, your click through rate, or your conversion rates.

Mark Richardson:

The whole media plan.

Brian Jones:

It's simple once you start to get it in your mind, but it's kind of counter to what marketing has been historically forever. If you're new to marketing, it's really counter because you think Super Bowl ads. If you're new to marketing, you're like, "It's about getting exposure to lots of people." That's not at all what it is anymore if you're like, especially... our customers are B2B marketers so they're very explicit with their budget. They've got a lot of oversight on it. They're usually really niche little products that they're selling to niche markets. Really interesting way to put that and to share, that's super relevant for our listeners.

Rand Fishkin:

You know what I found really frustrating? I'm sure you guys will resonate with this because it's just one of the most mind numbingly, awful verbiage, lexicon problems in marketing, which is essentially... when I was starting Sparktoro, before we ever had a product, I would get on the phone or zoom or whatever with tons of marketers like yourselves. I'd be like, "Hey, what do you call the process of discovering your audience's sources of influence so you can go do marketing through them?" They'd be like, "I do that work, but I have no name for it." I actually believe that is fundamentally at the core of the problem. I think because there's no word for that, marketers don't budget for it, CEOs don't have that role, nobody does that formally. There's no agencies that tell you, "We're a blah, blah, blah agency." Because they don't have a word for the research process of finding sources of influence, you get this huge thing. It used to be called influencer marketing for a brief window.

Rand Fishkin:

Then all of a sudden, all these dudes started taking off their shirts and having six packs on beaches and being like, "Pay me $500 bucks to pose with your product, bro." Now, that's influencer marketing.

Brian Jones:

Well, what's really cool about... go ahead.

Mark Richardson:

Let me take a stab at that, if I may, Brian. Sorry.

Brian Jones:

Please do.

Rand Fishkin:

Mark, keep your shirt on, man.

Brian Jones:

Well, everybody's shirts are coming off now.

Mark Richardson:

I want to take a stab at the former topic, not the ladder. My bad. I am in training for a marathon, but I'll spare you the shirtless.

Rand Fishkin:

Hang on, let me just make you full screen on my monitor here.

Mark Richardson:

You know how to make a guy feel good. But, key trust research is my stab at that, instead of key word research. I think essentially what you're looking for is this kernel of trust. In all of these influencers, it's not necessarily about how big you're following is, it's about the quality of the information and the reliability. I look to a guy like GothamChess, I'm a sub 800 chess player who is wanting to get better so I go to this guy, Levy from New York is GothamChess. If you want to get through to me, target GothamChess because that's where my trust base lives. That's the way as a marketer in this space... that's my stab at defining what your... your question there.

Rand Fishkin:

This is exactly right. I subscribe to TASTE magazine, it's an online newsletter, it's food-centric. I don't think it's very well followed, they have very few Twitter and social followers and whatever, but really excellent content when they do publish stuff, very trustworthy, and they recommend products. I'll be honest, I don't think a month has gone by since I subscribed to them where I haven't seen something that's covered in TASTE and then bought it. Last month, I think it was Salsa Macha and the month before that it was dark soy sauce, which I was like, "There's a dark and a light soy sauce?" I'm checking all of this stuff out.

Brian Jones:

I'm writing that down.

Rand Fishkin:

I'm like, "Oh man, I got to get this." I spent like $200 on a rice Donabe, this Japanese clay pot that's made in this one prefecture that's absolutely beautiful and makes perfect rice. I was convinced because I got this thing that I support you... it would not matter how many Instagram ads I saw for a Donabe, you would never change my mind. But, as soon as TASTE wrote about it, boom, I'm in.

Brian Jones:

You nailed it. I love that name you just gave up, Mark, key trust research. I have the exact same thing going on with a website that used to be the Wirecutter... I think New York Times bought them now.

Rand Fishkin:

Yes.

Brian Jones:

But, it was the only place I ever went in my life where they did as thorough research into things as I enjoyed doing. I got all the knowledge and the fun of the process and then I could totally trust what to buy there. The trust is... it's almost a new thing. This goes back to what I was going to say a minute ago about a point you said. Marketing is a really neat space right now because the tech is constantly changing and so what you can do is constantly changing. Then, what you can imagine to do a year from now is where you can innovate.

Rand Fishkin:

I somewhat agree, but there's a part of me that kind of disagrees with the idea that this is new because I think when I go... if you go watch Mad Men or whatever, or put yourself in the shoes of a 1950s Ad Exec, there was absolutely that same concept of, "We need to be in Popular Mechanics magazine with an ad that's... whose message is like this. It needs to be across from this story because that's where we're going to reach."

Brian Jones:

You're totally right.

Rand Fishkin:

My grandmother, she just passed away last year, but she's 94.

Mark Richardson:

I'm sorry.

Rand Fishkin:

Every time I flew out to New York... I'm in Seattle. Every time I flew out to New York, my grandmother would have a bunch of literal newspaper clippings. She had cut out of the newspaper the theater review section for the last few months. She was like, "Rand, I want you to look at the theater reviews. This is from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, I don't trust the Huntingdon paper." It's like, "Okay, Oma. I'll read the..." She's like, "Which show do you want to go to?" If it wasn't recommended by the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, and hopefully both, she would not go. She was like, "No, it's not a good show. I'm not going." I was like, "Oma, what if you like it but their theater critic doesn't like it?" She refused to believe that a world like that could exist.

Mark Richardson:

It's incredible how many of those... if we were to go through and catalog from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed how many of those biases exist or how many of those systems we have implemented as sort of a default setting in our mind.

Brian Jones:

Definitely. You guys have both just given me a different way to think about this, the trust component. It's the concept I think that's often referred to as community building. Do they have a strong community? Do they have loyal people following them? But, that's thinking about it from the brand as opposed to the people who you're trying to reach, who aren't the brand, you're trying to reach their customers and they have trust... really interesting spin on it.

Rand Fishkin:

Mark, I keep calling it influence with no "R" marketing. It's influence marketing, where are people influenced? How are they influenced? What do they pay attention to? Attention, broad following, is part of that, like do you reach a big enough group of people? But then, also, who are the people that you're reaching? Are they actually the same people that I'm trying to go after as customers? Then, do they trust you? Does getting my message in their work or is it going to be like the NPR Money Talks piece where it hits some of the right people, but just doesn't make an impact.

Mark Richardson:

Or, is there a disconnect between the messaging? Are we talking to the right people, but saying the wrong thing to speak to their need?

Rand Fishkin:

Wrong thing, totally. Yes. This is huge, too. We worked with this firm called Conversion Rate Experts. I don't know if you've ever talked to the guys over there, Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson, they're genius... you should have one of them on the show sometime because they're amazing guys. But they have this methodology where they interview your existing customers who are getting the most value from your product... it's an agency, and then they take the words and phrases that many people who love your product use. They essentially turn that into your marketing message. That's how they write the landing page, they just write it the way your existing customers... they find like, "10 people said they use Sparktoro to do X, Y, and Z." Your new landing page is, "Use Sparktoro to do X, Y, and Z." It's dumb that it works so well.

Brian Jones:

That's great.

Rand Fishkin:

It's annoying because it's too simple.

Brian Jones:

When you find those processes like that, you can look back on them and be like, "Man, how come everyone wasn't doing it this way?" But, they're magical.

Rand Fishkin:

Obviously, I should have thought of that.

Mark Richardson:

Then, sometimes you'll find that something that your clients or your user base loves is the thing that you felt, "That was just a little add-on, it wasn't even the thing we spent weeks and weeks perfecting in our sprints."

Rand Fishkin:

We had this with... Sparktoro added demographics in June. I was kind of like, "We'll see how it goes." I'm not expecting a whole bunch, but people freaking love their gender, age, level of education, and geographic distribution. Marketers are still kind of classic, some of them at least. I think there's a lot of researchers who are like, "I want that data. I want to present it." But, you can kind of see the stats since then, Sparktoro's like...

Mark Richardson:

Dude, that's awesome.

Brian Jones:

This goes back to your original comment about what you've been thinking about with product first marketing. In an interesting way, I think they're kind of inseparable at modern companies, especially in a world where... I don't know exactly what your marketing funnels look like, but I would imagine it's as low touch as possible, right?

Rand Fishkin:

Yes.

Brian Jones:

You don't have a sales team in house.

Rand Fishkin:

With three people, there's [crosstalk 00:40:37].

Brian Jones:

When you're trying to sell your product via a website and the website is your salesperson, your marketing has to be aligned with your product. It's this constant iterative dance that you're going back and forth, and that's really hard because you can't do one without the other so you have to build something first. You have to build some amount of it first for it to be even understandable. But, that's a really neat space I've found myself in at our company. Since we've started building our marketing team out, I was really getting to dive in there and understand that dynamic, having been mostly on the tech side previously.

Rand Fishkin:

I don't know if you... did you read, what's her name? April Dunford's book. I think it's "Obviously Awesome".

Brian Jones:

No, I don't think so.

Mark Richardson:

I have not.

Rand Fishkin:

I highly recommend it. I gave it to Casey. I don't think I have a copy here, but it doesn't matter, we're not on video anyway. If I hold it up to the camera, it's not like your audio listeners will be like, "We're looking at books."

Brian Jones:

We'll link it in show notes.

Mark Richardson:

We're thinking of rolling out video in '22 so you've got to come back. You have an amazing Zoom room, by the way.

Brian Jones:

You're prepared. I look terrible on video right now.

Rand Fishkin:

This is not true at all. Plus, I'm not running a marathon, I'm eating pasta.

Mark Richardson:

You have Jake up there, so that's all that counts [crosstalk 00:41:51].

Rand Fishkin:

April writes about this positioning problem where, essentially, you would take a company's product, change nothing about it, all you would do is change the way you are presenting the problem and what problem you are presenting that's being solved by the product. She has example after example of like, "Well, look at the amazing results it got at this company, this company, and this company." I always think of her on stage because I saw her on stage a few times saying, "You're not a blah, blah, blah. You're a product that solves this for these people." The CEO would invariably be like, "No, no, no. That's not who you are." April will be like, "Just try putting it on the homepage, let's see what happens."

Brian Jones:

That outside perspective is so helpful sometimes, all the time.

Mark Richardson:

What was that book... what was the title again? I grabbed a pen.

Rand Fishkin:

I think it's called "Obviously Awesome".

Mark Richardson:

Obviously Awesome. I'll check that out.

Brian Jones:

Well, I think we might be at that time where we've got to wind things down here. We're a little over. This has been wonderful chatting with you, Rand. I love the energy you bring to the conversation.

Rand Fishkin:

Right back at you.

Mark Richardson:

Thank you so much for joining us. This is quite a pleasure and honor for me [crosstalk 00:43:11] someone who's consumed your body of work over the years.

Rand Fishkin:

Anytime you guys want to chat just draw me a line and let's absolutely stay in touch. I look forward to it.

Brian Jones:

I love it. That's wonderful. Well, thanks to our listeners again for hanging out. This has been the Data-Driven Marketer, sponsored by NetWise. I'm Brian.

Mark Richardson:

I'm Mark.

Rand Fishkin:

I'm Rand.

Brian Jones:

Thanks for joining, Rand. Before I let you go, where can people find you other than Googling you?

Rand Fishkin:

Sure. You can check us out @sparktoro.com. Sign up... we've got a forever free account. You mentioned our funnel, it's free, no surprise. If you want to follow me and all my wacky opinions, the best place to do that is Twitter, where I'm @Randfish.

Brian Jones:

Wonderful. Well, thanks again for your time. It's been great chatting with you.

Rand Fishkin:

Likewise.

Mark Richardson:

I enjoyed it.

Brian Jones:

Take it easy everybody.

Mark Richardson:

Take care.

Brian Jones:

Cheers.