Rand Fishkin of MOZ and Sparktorro Headshot

Rand Fishkin Talks About Leaving Moz And Starting SparkToro

Rand Fishkin talks about the day he left Moz, and soon after how he formed the idea for audience intelligence for SparkToro. This episode goes deep.

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It is not every day that you get to introduce one of your heroes who influenced your life and your career. I can truly say that this guest’s whiteboard Friday webinars helped shed light on topics within my industry and settled arguments within the agency between multiple SEO analysts.

I hope you are sitting down because today, we are joined by the co-founder of SparkToro and MOZ Rand Fishkin.

Buckle up; this is going to be good.


LinkedIn:     https://www.linkedin.com/in/randfishkin/ 

Facebook Page:     https://www.facebook.com/rand.fishkin/

Twitter:     https://twitter.com/randfish 

Website:     https://sparktoro.com/

Bio & About:     https://sparktoro.com/team/rand

Book – Lost and Founder – Rand Fishkin (available on Amazon)

Value Drops:

4:00 – Rand talks about one of his worst days ever- his last day at Moz.

4:53 – Rand talks about one of the best days he has ever had.

10:12 – Rand talks about what motivated him toward audience intelligence (audience research).

17:51 – Rand Talks about the gigantic data set run in the background, constantly crawling the web.

21:20 – Rand talks about the misalignment between founders and venture capital firms.

29:36 – Rand talks about his aha moments.

32:30 – Rands gives some recommendations for businesses that are just starting out.

37:58 – Rand gives predictions on marketing trends in 2023

Questions for Rand:

So I asked the questions in a free-form way today, so they are not exact, but you get the gist of what I was asking Rand.

1.     What motivated you to create SparkToro?

2.     What led you to focus in on identifying a business’s audience research?

3.     What were some of the challenges that you faced building the software and server stack to gather audience research data so quickly?

4.     You talked candidly about venture capital and how there can be misalignment between founders and VC firms, and it seems this can happen on many levels.

a.     I love the fact that you are keeping SparkToro investors free.

b.     Can you explain to the listeners and any budding founders the benefits of staying venture capital free?

5.     Can you tell the listeners over your career, what have been some of the aha moments or major breakthroughs you have had, and how they influenced your business at that time?

6.     What are your marketing predictions for 2023 for businesses that want to get more closely aligned with their audience?

7.     What recommendations can you provide for the business owner struggling with marketing or someone just starting a business?

8.     If you had a chance to tell your younger self how to approach something differently. What would that be?

Episode # 5 Transcript

[00:01] Announcer: This is a call to all current and aspiring entrepreneurs. How you market your business can be the difference between whether or not you succeed online. But don't worry, we're here to help with current strategies, tips and tricks that you can apply to your online business or business idea. This is the EMJ podcast with your host, Matt Hepburn.

[00:30] Matt Hepburn: This is episode five of the EMJ podcast, and I'm your host, Matt Hepburn. I hope you're sitting down because today we are joined by the co-founder of SparkToro and Moz, the one and only Rand Fishkin: So buckle up. This is going to be good.

[00:45] Matt Hepburn: Welcome to the show, Rand.

[00:49] Rand Fishkin: Great to be here, Matt. Thanks for having me.

[00:51] Matt Hepburn: It's a pleasure. So I was hoping I'm going to just jump right into it. I wanted to ask you, what was the motivation that you had to start SparkToro.

[01:07] Rand Fishkin: Love? There's this semi famous scene, I think it's from one of the first few seasons of the Simpsons where homer is having a conversation with someone and inside his brain you can hear this voice saying, don't say revenge. Don't say revenge. Don't say revenge. Revenge. That's it. I'm out of here. This is often how I think about the answer to that question. Part of that is like, it's not necessarily revenge against someone else. But after my experience at Moz, there was a small but influential group of people who, I think did not believe that I had good judgment or that believed that my whatever relative degrees of success with that company were by chance and not by making good decisions or some other element of the work that I had put in. And I very much wanted to prove that group wrong. And I think probably even more than that group of people, I wanted to prove it to myself.

[02:24] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, I can see that. I have to say that having been in SEO for 13 plus years, you were a very founding part of whiteboard Fridays, for sure. So thank you for that. Regardless, you were very helpful and brought a lot of things into focus for the industry, regardless of what other people think.

[02:50] Rand Fishkin: Yeah, look, I don't think my board of directors and investors thought that my contributions to the educational prowess of the SEO field were subpar. But I certainly think that they did not take my recommendations on strategy or tactics in, you know, company approach, philosophy around the market. What what I thought professional SEO is needed from software, what I thought the company should be doing, that's what really frustrated me. So, yeah, I want to be clear, right. I don't think they would not have said no, matt, those whiteboard Fridays were terrible. That was not their contention at all, right.

[03:35] Matt Hepburn: No, I think they were great, actually. And when I was at one of the larger agencies that I was at, I won't say the name of them, but actually. Well, Martindale Hubble, when I was at Martel Hubble, there was 15 SEO analysts, and we would all gather in a room on Fridays to watch those.

[03:55] Rand Fishkin: Yeah, I heard that from so many folks, and it really made my day. Matt, I'll tell you, one of my worst days ever, professionally, for sure, probably personally, too, was February 28 of 2018. That was my last day at Maas. Go in, get all your stuff from the office, answer your last few emails, set up your out of office, not out of office, right out of employment message, which I'm sure someone overwrote the next day. But I then packed up all my stuff into a little box and left the company that I started 17 years before that.

[04:47] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, just a rough that had to be heartbreaking.

[04:50] Rand Fishkin: Yeah. Rough, rough day. And one of the best days I ever had was March 1 of 2018, because that morning so I had written a blog post the night before. It was called My Last Day at Maas. My first day at SparkToro. SparkToro technically didn't raise money and kind of get going until June, but I had the website going, and I had an idea of what I hoped I wanted to do with this audience research software, which I came up with after 05:00 P.m. On February 28, just in case any lawyers ask you.

[05:31] Matt Hepburn: Right.

[05:32] Rand Fishkin: When did Rand come up with the idea of spartoro? After 05:00 p.m on February 28. And that night, when I published that blog post, I went to sleep. Probably not my best night of sleep ever, but then I woke up to so many thousands of messages from folks like yourself who told stories exactly like that, right. Like, hey, me and my team, we gather around. We watch Whiteboard Friday; we use Moz’s software to track our rankings before there was any other rank tracker out there. And we learned this from blah, blah. You held my career in all these different ways. Had so many messages like that that I think took me almost two full weeks to get through them all. And by the time I did, I think I came around to the idea that Moz may not have been a success from its investors point of view or for shareholders, which I still to this day, feel terrible about. But I think it helped a lot of people, and maybe that's actually more important. Maybe that's better.

[06:40] Matt Hepburn: Yeah. That still had to be really hard, those first two weeks of going through those messages.

[06:45] Rand Fishkin: Oh, no. I mean, it was it was amazing. Matt I hope everyone in their career gets something like that. I swear to God, you know, half the day is just by lunchtime. I was crying. It was some of those stories are beyond beautiful. Just incredible people who talk about like, hey, I was a college dropout, and I had whatever, some addiction problems, and I had whatever, family issues, that kind of stuff. And SEO digital marketing kind of saved me because it gave me a direction, and I could do these things and without, I think, for a ton of those people, when they wrote to me, the feeling that I got was not, oh, it's because of my work or our work that they accomplished these things. I think those people would have found great stuff from lots of people on the Internet. They happened to find our stuff. It ended up being useful to them and put them on the right path. I feel awesome about that.

[07:44] Matt Hepburn: For me, I transitioned from the mortgage industry. I was doing direct mail for 13 years. I did about 10,000 pieces of mail per month. And in 2008, when the market just died, I stayed in to about 2010. Everybody was underwater. The ROI and the marketing didn't make any sense anymore. But I basically said, how do I take this engagement that I have? Because my phones were ringing all the time prior to the crash. I said, how do I take this online? What does that mean? Right? And finding your content was extremely helpful to give me. And I said I was going out of the larger tenant of putting your message out to a large amount of people. You'll get a larger conversion and all that type of stuff. And it, of course, was not anything like direct mail, but it was fascinating. And because there was a lot of other content out there that was not good, I gravitated towards your content, certainly.

[08:45] Rand Fishkin: I mean, this is one of the recommendations I have for all early-stage entrepreneurs, is choose a sector where you can stand out. Right. Because SEO was a place where there was a lot of questionable content. When I started in 2002 three, and, you know, by the time by the time Moz was mature, you know, 2012 1314, I think that industry was already incredibly difficult. You know, if I tried to build an SEO software company and and build up the community that we had and the content that we had and the rankings and all that kind of stuff, the traffic, that would have been an incredibly difficult task at that point. Market timing matters, and I think choosing a market that can anticipate growth also huge.

[09:34] Matt Hepburn: So, with that, let's switch to the business audience research market, because I think there's a lot there. Right. So you said at 05:00 afterwards, you came up with the beginning of the seat of this idea. Right?

[09:49] Rand Fishkin: Yeah.

[09:50] Matt Hepburn: How did that grow, and what kind of led you to thinking about that versus because that's a completely different direction than most marketing or SEO type of software that is out there. I think it's genius for a lot of different reasons, but what kind of led you down that path towards saying, I want to find this information for people?

[10:13] Rand Fishkin: Yeah. So my co-founder and I, Casey and I had this experience where we started talking to a lot of folks about this general concept. I think in the early days of SparkToro, we called it audience intelligence, just this idea of knowing more about a group of people online, in particular their behaviors and demographics. Like what do they read and watch and listen to and follow and subscribe to and who are they and what's their composition of percentages of different genders or ages or geographies job titles, all that kind of stuff, which we all do. We all do some form of like, oh, I'm going to try and understand my audience better. Let me see if I can get a sense for who they are. And then for some people, a lot of market researchers, they try and put statistics against that. So, we were like looking at this field and it is dominated almost entirely. Was dominated. Still is actually. It's probably a multibillion-dollar market, but completely dominated by surveys and interviews, which I don't have a problem with. I think surveys and interviews are great. I think almost everyone should be doing them. I think if you're going to start a business, you should be interviewing the people who you think are your right customers and you should be running some surveys at scale to try and get data from them and understand that market. You should be following lots of those people, having those conversations. That's all-fantastic stuff. But what we were shocked by is kind of the loss of data that in 20th century marketing would have been essential. So, like, Matt, if you and I were running an ad agency and it's 1965 and I don't know, coca Cola comes to us and they say, hey, we want to expand more in the West Coast, we would tell them, oh, well, these magazines are well read by your target demographic, which tends to be whatever it is. Maybe Coke would say to us, well, we find that our primary buyer is moms and dads between the ages of 30 and 45. I don't know what it is.

[12:25] Matt Hepburn: That's their personality, right?

[12:26] Rand Fishkin: And we would say, oh, well, we can tell you based on the market research, we have opened up some giant binder of all the publications that reach that demographic group, and we can tell Coke which ones they can buy from. You can't do it on the internet today, right? It doesn't exist anyway. That drove me mad. I thought that was insanity, that this sort of well worn, very thoughtful, reasonable marketing approach. Maybe demographics is a bad way to do it, right? Maybe instead, like today, you would want to say, hey, what I want is kind of the Facebook lookalike audience. I want you to show me people who have engaged with Coca Cola's brand. They've tweeted about it. They have followed them on one or more social accounts. They've posted Instagram pictures of it. They've used the hashtag, they I don't know, subscribe to the YouTube channel. Like, I want you to tell me about that group of people and then tell me what else they do on the Internet so that I can go reach. Because if they do those things, other people who potentially would be engagers with the Coca Cola brand probably do those things too, and I can reach them there. You can't do it. So, we talked to some big agencies. I don't know if your agency did this or the agencies you worked with, but we talked to some big agencies who basically would sell their clients a onetime data analysis like this. So, what they do is they'd be like, oh, okay, hey, you want to understand what interior designers in California do on the Internet? So we're going to go crawl 10,000 LinkedIn profiles of interior designers who say they're in California, and then we're going to go find all their Twitter accounts and there, I don't know, Reddit accounts and YouTube accounts, like, the best that we can. And then we're going to deliver this document to you. It's going to cost you $250,000, but it's going to take about six months of our engineering. Two engineers are going to sit on it, build crawlers, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And people were buying it.

[14:34] Matt Hepburn: Wow.

[14:34] Rand Fishkin: People were buying it. And when Casey saw that casey's, my CTO and co-founder, he was like, wait, they paid a quarter million dollars for that? I can make that in five minutes. We could build that for the whole Internet. And you could get it by searching in, I think, 3 seconds. And that's exactly what SparkToro is. Right. It's essentially you go to SparkToro and you say, show me people who've, I don't know, posted about Coca Cola or, you know, say they're an interior designer and are located in California, and then here's this giant group of data about it.

[15:11] Matt Hepburn: For the listeners. They may not understand for what you've just explained. If they're trying to do positioning, you could actually use a competitor that's similar within the niche for Cola or whatever it might be, find out where they are, and expand further outwards. Right. And then you're really getting competitive analysis about where your niche is, where your competitors are, where it's being mentioned, and now you can target where your competitors are. So, I think it's in that aspect. And for positioning, I don't remember the woman's name was on Spark Together, 22 April Dunford, probably. Yes. It was all about positioning. I thought she was absolutely brilliant.

[15:55] Rand Fishkin: Yeah, she's incredible.

[15:59] Matt Hepburn: I could see her using that information right there for that.

[16:02] Rand Fishkin: Sure. A lot of this is, let me gain a deep understanding of the market so that I can answer all kinds of questions. Which channels should we participate in, which tactics? Which specific YouTube channels should I go advertise against or pitch, and how should I target my content? What should I write about, what should I create content about? And then also those bigger picture strategy kinds of questions like market positioning certainly could be. I wouldn't say you could just take the data in spartoro and then have an answer to that, but you should use the data that's in spartoro or another product like it to inform yourself so that your answer will be better. To that question around who am I for and why and what's my unique value proposition to that market?

[16:54] Matt Hepburn: And then at the same time, if they're doing podcast interviews, what podcasts can I actually pitch to actually go on? Which is a much better sponsor or sponsor. And it's a much better way of getting links to your website, which will actually help your SEO strategy than to.

[17:13] Rand Fishkin: Just I mean, I don't know anything about this SEO thing you're talking about, Matt, but I can speak to the rest of it.

[17:17] Matt Hepburn: Okay, I think you just actually answered one of my questions I was going to actually ask, how hard was the tech stack to build and did you have any challenges with that? Because even though he was saying he could do that in three minutes or whatever, you have to scale this for whatever users you have. I don't remember how many users you have, but you have to scale it for it to hold all that and then keep the speed.

[17:49] Rand Fishkin: Totally, yeah. So, you can't do this on demand, right. So, what you could not do is say, oh, well, when you come to me and say you're interested in whatever interior designers in California or you are trying to sell your CRM software to chief marketing officers at Tech Startups or something, we couldn't go at that moment and then say, okay, hold on just a second. We're going to go crawl all the platforms, try and find all the people, try and connect up the profiles then and then do the analysis. You have to collect it in the background, right. You've got to constantly be crawling the web and aggregating this data and anonymizing it, right? Because there's GDP. Technically, we could legally show the people who are in the cohort like software, like Lead Fuse does this. It's quite good. I like it. A lot of people use it for lead gen, but we did not want to. We wanted to be anonymous and aggregated. So, we don't tell you, hey, here's 6412 interior designers in California or 12,000 CMOS in the US. And here's their contact information. We don't do that. We instead say here's 12,000 CMOS and here's their aggregate behavior. 17.2% of them do this thing. 12% of them have this feature trader behavior. So, all of that has to happen behind the scenes, which essentially for us, it's about 120-day crawl and process to grab the I think we have about 90 million public profiles. Each of those profiles can have up to 1213 different networks or websites that they're associated with. So, it might be like, oh, here's Matt Hepburn's, like LinkedIn, and here's your Twitter profile, and here's your Facebook page, and here's your, you know, Instagram, and here's your Reddit account, and your YouTube page, and your GitHub and your Quora and Medium, DA. And that's one profile in our index and your website and podcast, like, those are all part of that profile. And so, we'd say that's one profile in our index, and we've got about 90 million of those. We're English only. So that helps make the Internet a little smaller for us. I love it.

[20:11] Matt Hepburn: You're actually doing Google entities. Yeah, exactly.

[20:15] Rand Fishkin: Google is doing this already, and they can show you this information. It's just that they don't aggregate it and then present it in this way. So, from a legal and privacy standpoint, what we do is exactly what Google does. We just present the data in a different fashion. And, Google gives far more personally identifiable information than SparkToro does. So we try and stay safe that way.

[20:40] Matt Hepburn: So, I think it's really smart the way you did it because by making it anonymous, it doesn't open you up to GDPR, privacy, all the personal data stuff.

[20:49] Rand Fishkin: And we had some good lawyers that we worked with who were like, okay, you can do this, you can't do this. You have to watch out for that. And thankfully, we were already on the very safe side of in a lot of ways, if Google can access a thing, we can access it. If Google can't, we can't. If they can show the data, we can. So they've paved the way for us, which is nice too.

[21:13] Matt Hepburn: So, I'm going to kind of switch gears a little bit. You've talked candidly about venture capital in Lost and founder and kind of how there can be this misalignment in between the founder and the VC firm. And I actually love the fact that you're keeping SparkToro investor free. It's on your video, on your homepage. Love that. Can you explain to the listeners, and anybody founders the benefits of staying venture capital free?

[21:44] Rand Fishkin: Yeah. How do I do that? In a short fashion, the list of benefits is long. So, I think a good way to explain it is for folks who don't quite understand how institutional capital works. Right. If you and I are VCs, we start Matt and Rand, I don't know, enterprises, and we go out to LPs Limited Partners, from whom we raise money. Those are people like pension funds or university endowments or wealthy individuals very, you know, ludicrously wealthy individuals. And then we essentially say, okay, we're going to take, let's say, 100 million of your dollars, and we're going to invest in 500 companies. And here's how generally, statistically speaking, that model is going to work. 480 of those companies are going to go bust. They're going to return nothing. They're going to return, like, less than the amount we invested in them, we're going to generally lose money on them. Then of the 20 remaining companies, about 15 are going to return somewhere between three and five XR investment. We'll make some money on them. We'll see, you know, we'll see how things go. The remaining ten, maybe remaining five, that's where we make all our money. Because they are going to be worth 1000 times more than what we invested in them for. They're going to return a huge amount of capital to us. And so venture capital and private equity for that matter, are essentially tools for inequality, right? A few winners, lots and lots of losers. And of course, everybody who pitches for Venture and doesn't get it, they don't do so well either. And the requirement, of course, is once you and I invest in one of these companies, we're not looking for them to right. If the founder, the CEO, the executive team says to us, hey, we're going to pull back on growth, the market's uncertain right now. We just kind of, we're going to stay alive and profitable and see where things take us the next few years. We're going to tell them, no, no you're not. That is not what we signed up to do. You are going to use all the capital that you have and your hardest effort and every hour you can squeeze out of every person on your team to grow as fast as possible or die trying. Those are the outcomes. We are not interested in your, hey, we grew 20% last year and we kept our profit margins nice and we're building a nice, solid, long-term business that can last for a while. Not interested, I don't care. You find a way to get to that, you know, ten X, 100 X, or please just go away and leave our portfolio. We don't really have time to be on the board of companies that are profitable and growing slowly.

[24:54] Matt Hepburn: Right?

[24:55] Rand Fishkin: This is where the model gets really tough for, we say, founders, but generally speaking, founders are actually the ones least affected by this. Who really bears the brunt is the team and the customers. Because if you think about those 480 companies that went out of business, all of their customers have no product anymore. If they built processes on top of their stacks, they're gone. They just vanished. All the people who work there, they can barely put it on their resume, right? They can say, well, I worked at this company, but it doesn't exist anymore, so I can't really show you. It's just a terrible time for everyone. And my company was in the 15, but not in the five. So Maas grew very quickly. It was doubling revenue year over year for a bunch of years in a row, and eventually went from, gosh, what were we doing, 600,000, $700,000 in revenue when we when we raised investment, to $50 million when I left? A year. And it was still not a success. Still not returning what its investors had promised to their LPs and what I had promised to my investors when I raised money from them. Yeah, man, it's no good.

[26:19] Matt Hepburn: That's hard. In one part of your book, you were talking about if the company wants to sell and there was a mismatch as to like, what X they had to make that the VC firm could just veto the sale of anything.

[26:39] Rand Fishkin: It's pretty rare that they do, to be honest. It happens sometimes, I would say. It's not the hard veto is rarely exercised. It's, it's soft power and culture and incentives. Right. It's essentially saying like, Matt, you have I had this conversation right in was it two started 2011. HubSpot just made you an offer. It's going to make you very wealthy. It's going to make your team very wealthy. It was for 30 ish million dollars, $35 million to buy a company that was doing about $67 million in revenue. So a nice multiple on, on that, that revenue number. You're going to join HubSpot. HubSpot itself is growing fast. The stock price, obviously, from 2011 to 2023 has grown 500 X. I don't even know. But, you know, you can't, you don't, you don't know that at the time. But the, you know, the conversation is, hey, your company has been doubling year over year. Next year you're probably going to get an offer at twice that amount. Are you sure you want to sell now? Four years from now you could get an offer for $100 million, $500 million. Are you sure you want to sell now? That's the kind of conversation, right? Technically those conversations are true, right. They're not lying to you. That is possible. And it's what they're hoping for, right? It's what you're hoping for. It's what you signed up to do when you raised that money. You told them you were going to try to do that. So, the question is, are you scared for the future and you're kind of backing out of your obligation and taking the money and running or are you going to stick it out?

[28:27] Matt Hepburn: That sounds really hard conversation.

[28:33] Rand Fishkin: I think, like a lot of founders, in order to have what my people would call the Chitzpah, to believe that you might build a billion dollar company, that you're that incredibly special, that in a field of tens of thousands of founders, you're better than almost all of them, you also probably have the chutzpah to believe that your company is going to be worth more next year and you should keep going and not sell early.

[29:00] Matt Hepburn: Okay, that's fair. So, can you give us a few AHA moments or breakthroughs that you've had in your career? The other question that kind of ties back into that too is if you had a chance to go back and talk to your younger self and give your younger self some really great advice on what to do or what not to do. Can you connect the AHA moments or the breakthroughs in talking to your younger self and what that might be?

[29:36] Rand Fishkin: Yeah, I think that one of them is the worst part of failure and of failing to meet expectations is the emotional letdown that you are not as good as you thought you were. But the beautiful thing about those failures is, hopefully if you have any sort of emotional intelligence and empathy for yourself or others, they lead you to a more humble place. You make fewer assumptions about how brilliant and outstanding and unique you are, and you start to realize that a huge amount of the world is driven by luck. And almost no one in the entrepreneurial and business world wants you to believe that, because they don't want to believe that about themselves. Right?

[30:45] Matt Hepburn: Right. For sure.

[30:47] Rand Fishkin: If Elon Musk gets on a stage and he said, me, I'm obviously nothing special, look at the terrible, terrible decisions that I make every day. No, what I am is incredibly lucky. If you roll the dice of the model of late stage capitalism enough, you're going to get a few Elon Musks like me. We're not special or better than you. There's nothing that makes us extraordinary. We're lucky. And then we use the luck that we've achieved to try and paint as rosy a picture as we can to the people around us and to ourselves about who we are. Because, dear God, it's frightening to think that this was not earned through genius or expertise or labor, but is a gift of the dice rolling model. So that is certainly one of those things that I think I eventually had that hard conversation with myself and got myself there. And got myself there. That's not even right. I read and understood lots of data from lots of smart people and eventually was able to internalize, probably thanks in part to my failure with Moz. Right. That's the real way the world works.

[32:12] Matt Hepburn: So humbling moments are we all have them, and as long as we can take away something from it and grow from it, they're good in hindsight, they're hard and they're painful, but we can grow from them. So would love to hear your recommendations. You could provide for any business who's struggling or someone who's just starting in business, what recommendations you would give them starting out, and that would be wonderful.

[32:43] Rand Fishkin: Matt, that is a very broad question.

[32:46] Matt Hepburn: I know you can niche it down.

[32:49] Rand Fishkin: I can, but yeah. All right, let's see. I would say one of the best things that you can do before you start your business, before you build your product, is to build expertise and a network in your field. If lots of people who are in whatever the interior design industry already know you and like you and trust you, and they've seen good work from you because you, I don't know, worked at some other consulting firm. Or you were at some other company, or you were an interior designer yourself and you were influential in your field and lots of people read about your work and whatever. You will have 1000 times easier of a path setting up customer interviews, building a good email list of prospects, knowing where to go target your market, understanding what messages resonate with them and don't leaning on people for feedback, talking to people about investment, but private investment if you want. Right? It doesn't have to be a venture. Getting help with, hey, do you know any good accountants who could assist me? Every single process in your business will be vastly easier. And if instead you drop out of college and are like, I can do this. I'm going to be great. Oh, man. Every single step of the way is just a slog. Just a slog. A tremendous amount of any success that I've had in my previous company or this one have been because I have a network of people who like me and trust me and think I'm not the worst person ever and are happy to jump on an hour long podcast and chat about deep stuff with me. It's huge.

[34:43] Matt Hepburn: Yeah, I can totally agree with you. In case you didn't know, I am also a college drop out. So, I went to Western State College in Colorado, which is really far away from New Jersey, and had no idea it was considered in the top ten of the party schools in the US.

[35:06] Rand Fishkin: Oh.

[35:07] Matt Hepburn: And so, let's just say that semester I spent much more time partying than studying. And by the end of that semester I said, you know, what am I doing? I had a heart to heart with myself and I left college right there. I didn't waste too much time and I just got right to it. But started with I've read a bunch.

[35:27] Rand Fishkin: Of analyses about how a huge perception of the value of college is supposedly that you learn things and those things will help you in your career and by whatever you're doing, your classwork or getting good grades or those kinds of things. But apparently partying, as you put it, statistically correlates with doing very well out of college. And it does. And the reasons that researchers who looked into educational feel about this is that tragically, the two primary things that college seems to do for you is one, it's sort of an assertive qualifier. It tells other people who have gone to college that you are like them and so therefore they should consider you for a job interview, opportunity, whatever, what have you. Right? The second primary use case value for college is what I just talked about a network of people who know you and like you and partying is quite good for getting people to know you and like you, at least while you're young. I don't know about today.

[36:37] Matt Hepburn: I decided when I came back. These days we call it being agile. Right? So change is going to happen to you no matter what happens. So, you can either embrace it or you can be moan it. Right? So, for me, I always kind of embrace it and say, okay, where do I need to shift and how do I need to shift? What does that mean? So, it's done well for me with that. And some of the older generation kind of don't understand that they're used to being in a job for years and years and years. They wouldn't understand what to do. Right.

[37:14] Rand Fishkin: My dad joined Boeing, I think the year I was born, so 1979. And on his 30th year, the week of his 30 year anniversary with the company, he got his full pension and was like, okay, I'm done. Nobody has jobs like that anymore. That's how it works.

[37:37] Matt Hepburn: My dad was similar. He worked for US Air for 25 years after the military and then retired. So those type of jobs aren't there, and those opportunities aren't there. And it's a different world, right?

[37:53] Rand Fishkin: Yeah, absolutely.

[37:55] Matt Hepburn: So I got one last question for you. You've been so forthcoming and so transparent. We love this. So, what are your predictions for marketing for 2023? What does a business need to focus on?

[38:13] Rand Fishkin: Yes, I mean, so my I think these two are actually quite different. Like the interesting thing is, if you are starting a new business, if you are helping an early stage or a relatively small company out, marketing hasn't changed all that much. Especially not in the last like twelve months or two years or something like that. The tactics that you're probably familiar with, content creation and distribution, social media, marketing, digital advertising, SEO, all of these kinds of things, still relatively effective as long as you've got strength in the actual business, right? The product is good, you've chosen a good market, you have a good unique value proposition, your customers love what you're doing, all those kinds of good things, right? Many of the marketing tactics have not changed. The biggest change in the marketing industry that we've been experiencing is really around. In my opinion, it is attribution versus measurement, meaning that basically massive changes have been happening on the sort of tech and privacy stack and in the world of advertising wars. So Apple and other companies have kind of realized that the ad market is just absolutely beautiful. It's all margin. The only product you have to do is build a moat. So Apple is trying to build their own moat, and as a result, they've pulled a ton of data that Facebook and Google and Amazon and others used to get through third party cookies. Google realized this too, with Chrome. And so, they're like, yeah, privacy, privacy is important. No more third-party cookies. We're phasing those out and as a result, you're losing out on the attribution. What you and I are used to from, let's say, especially ten years ago, right? This person searched for this keyword in Google, and they landed on this page of our website and they gave us their email address. And 60 days later they became a customer. We can attribute that whole conversion path to them searching Google and us ranking in position one for this keyword. Obviously, keywords are gone in Google nowadays, you can still see landing pages, but you can't measure that, oh, they signed up for the email and then how long did it take to get them back? Well, if you have their email address, you could know, but if they just came to your website and then came back to your website 90 days later, you're not going to know. The cookies expired and all this kind of stuff. The ability to target people through Facebook ads has gotten dramatically worse the last year because of this Apple change. So 30% of the devices, at least in the US. Where Apple has approximately a 30% share, no longer do they by default pass basically the behavioral information about what you do on Facebook to the rest of the web, and from the rest of the web back to Facebook. The EU just said this is illegal entirely. Facebook can't do it at all. And not just Facebook, but TikTok and Reddit and YouTube and everybody else.

[41:19] Matt Hepburn: And Google Analytics.

[41:20] Rand Fishkin: And Google Analytics is illegal. And this is shaking things up massively in the space. So, if you're a digital marketer and agency, if you are consulting for folks, if you're working in a big company or a scaling startup, this thing is throwing a ton of the tactics and some of the channels out as directly attributable. And instead, you have to measure through Lyft, which means a lot of testing. You're you know what we're back to Matt, what we were talking about earlier. It's the 1960s and Coca Cola came to us, and they said, run this ad in this magazine and then we're going to see whether they sell more in the places where that magazine is distributed, more and less in the places where it's not. That's how we're going to measure marketing.

[42:06] Matt Hepburn: Again, yeah, I'm using a lot more tracking pixel type of software. So, I'm using plausible analytics, which doesn't use any cookies, totally GDPR compliant, and where it's at and where it stores data and all that type of stuff. So, trying to be cognizant for the business, and that's the hard thing the business has learned.

[42:32] Rand Fishkin: I could be mistaken about this, but my understanding is it's not just the technology, it's the practice of collecting behavioral data about what someone does on another website and then being able to use that in your ad. Targeting that is potentially on the chopping block. And I think that rules out any technology that helps you do it.

[42:52] Matt Hepburn: It might actually go as far as how you segment your email list with tags, right? Because that's an identifiable behavior of what a user has done. They visited a page. Now, you've tagged it as to whatever relevant pages. While you do give them the opt out experience where they can opt out to remove that information, we're not supposed to be having that information in the first place, so it's questionable.

[43:24] Rand Fishkin: My suspicion is the Internet breaks if you actually take away that functionality entirely. But I think my understanding of the EU's proposal was essentially, this applies to advertising.

[43:33] Matt Hepburn: Okay.

[43:35] Rand Fishkin: If you Amazon, say, hey, the person visited their Amazon Web Services account page. Well, am I not allowed to now show the AWS navigation in their account? That's insane. How will they ever get there? That stuff should still remain legal. Right, but if you want to use that to advertise AWS services to them on Instagram no go, no retargeting. Yeah. Anyway, that stuff is, I think, the big changes that are happening right now.

[44:12] Matt Hepburn: Yes, I definitely am in total agreement with that. I'm hoping it's just the advertising sector and it's not the email marketing tagging as well, because that will yeah, I.

[44:24] Rand Fishkin: Mean, I think it depends on what the email is about. But you know what? We don't have to speculate. At some point, a bunch of expensive lawyers in Zurich will figure this out for us, and then we will know.

[44:36] Matt Hepburn: Then we will know. But for now, it sounds like it's just advertising. Well, thank you so much, so much for coming on the show. It's very deep information that you're providing, and I think that businesses can really have a good understanding as to their audiences and positioning and why it's really important to do that. Where should they go if they come to SparkToro? Is there a specific section of the site that they should go to for a demo or for sign up?

[45:12] Rand Fishkin: So, this is the wild part, Matt. Only three of us work at SparkToroo. It's a tiny, tiny little company. We don't do demos. So, if you email us and you ask for a demo, you'll get a reply from usually myself or Amanda or Casey. It'll be like, sorry, we don't do demos. But here's a bunch of videos and resources you can watch. Exactly. If you end up signing up for an account, of course we'll walk you through or on board you or whatever. But the best thing you can do I hope this is true, right, that essentially, we have about 75,000 people who use the free version of SparkToro. If you go to the home page and you just run some searches and you find the data valuable, it's free. It's a forever free account. You don't have to put in a credit card. It's not a free trial or anything like that. If you find that valuable, you can just keep using that. And if you want, there's, like, some upgrade options, of course, as well. But that would be the thing I suggest folks do, and then. Yeah, if you want to follow along as I rant about marketing, digging strategy and what's happening with attribution and measurement and all that kind of stuff, the SparkToro Blog is a great place to do that. You can get that email and not any of our other emails if you want.

[46:22] Matt Hepburn: Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, thank you so much once again. I really appreciate the time you've spent with us.

[46:28] Rand Fishkin: Yeah. My pleasure, matt thanks for having me.

[46:30] Matt Hepburn: All right. Fantastic. You have a great night.

[46:32] Rand Fishkin: Yeah, you too. Take care.

[46:33] Matt Hepburn: Take care.

[46:36] Announcer: Are you ready to break through to accelerate online business growth? Then join our email list@https://podcast.focusvisibility.com so we can keep you up to date with the latest strategies, tips, and tricks that you'll want to know. Also, please don't forget to subscribe to the podcast so you never miss an episode. This is The EMJ podcast with Matt Hepburn, and we'll see you next time.

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  • Matt Hepburn

    Matt is the founder of The Focus Visibility Podcast. Matt has over 14 years of experience in search engine optimization. Matt has worked with various enterprise businesses, including Mend.io formerly (White Source Software), John Hancock USA, SEMrush, Commvault, and iCIMS. Matt has also worked in large and small agency environments, including Martindale Hubble, WebROI, and Search Interactions. Additionally, Matt brings 14 years of consulting on organic traffic issues that affect businesses.

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