The Cheat Code to Rank #1 on Google with SEO Mozart - Rand Fishkin


Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin is the Founder of SparkToro. And previously, he co-founded Moz and He’s also the author of, “Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World,” and has previously written two more books, “Art of SEO,” and “Inbound Marketing & SEO.” Additionally, he’s a frequent traveler, speaker, and presenter.
WEBSITE: SparkToro


  • Challenges of Ecommerce Stores
  • Rand’s Journey into Digital Marketing
  • SEO Secrets


  • 00:57 : Rand’s Life Story
  • 6:52 : Rand Talks About TJ Maxx
  • 10:48 : Amazon’s Disruptiveness
  • 13:51 : Rundown of Moz
  • 17:29 : Rand Talks About Lost & Founder, and Google
  • 23:23 : Rand And Sergey’s Call
  • 28:39 : Whiteboard Fridays
  • 29:34 : Core Elements of SEO
  • 33:03 : Rand Talks About SparkToro
  • 40:34 : Rand’s Epic Proposal

In a time when everyone heads to a search engine to find what they are looking for, it’s crucial for brands to invest in SEO. Google holds a market share of about 75% in the search engine market, and it’s thus essential for businesses to rank well in Google.

However, figuring out the secrets to ranking higher in search results is not an easy task. To make this simpler for you, I’ve got the SEO Mozart, Rand Fishkin, with me. He’s the co-founder of Moz and has also recently co-founded SparkToro. He’s here to share his expertise in SEO to help you understand it better.

Now, let’s try to find out how you can reach the coveted #1 spot on the Google’s SERPs.

1. Figure Out Your Target Audience

To get your SEO right, it’s critical to figure out your target audience. This is because all of your marketing efforts need to be focused on this group of people who might become your customers. You need to get to know them based on their demographics, geographics, and psychographics.

Find out their pain points and interests. All of your marketing and content should be centered around these topics so that it can help pull your target customers to you. The content that you create should be of interest to them or it should solve some of their issues. Only then will they find it helpful.

When they find your content relevant, they’ll be more interested in reading it. This, in turn, will help improve your site metrics such as bounce rate, time on site, and pages per session. These will help improve your SEO.

However, along with your target audience, Rand recommends writing for personalities who can influence your audience too. These are the people who’ll be able to project your brand positively and market it without any additional effort from your end.

Your goal should thus be to find these influential personalities who have followers from your target audience. Find out their interests and pain points and write about them. This will help you reach a wider audience and improve your SEO too.

2. Prepare an SEO Strategy

Just like any other form of marketing, it’s crucial to have an SEO strategy that can help you plan your marketing activities. This strategy should include all of the steps that you need to take to ensure that your website follows the SEO best practices.

It must have your plans for on-page, off-page, and technical SEO. In addition, it should be well-documented to ensure that all of your employees have access to it. This will help align everyone’s efforts to get your website to the desired #1 ranking in the SERPs.

3. Optimize For Mobiles

Nearly 49% of all web traffic comes from mobiles, and this makes it essential for you to optimize your website for them as well. If your website isn’t attractive and easy to browse on smartphones, you’ll lose out on nearly 50% of all of your traffic.

In addition, Google uses mobile-first indexing. So, if your website isn’t well-optimized for mobiles, it can be nearly impossible to reach the #1 ranking on the SERPs. This is why you must design your websites to enable a smooth browsing experience for mobile users. You must create a responsive design that can fit well on any screen size.

To check if your website is well-designed for mobiles and is responsive, you can use the Google Mobile-Friendly Test. This tool will check if your website is mobile-friendly or not.

Google Mobile-Friendly Test

Image via Google Mobile-Friendly Test

4. Page Loading Speed

Nobody likes to wait too long for a page to load. This is why optimizing your page loading speed is of the utmost importance. You must ensure that your website loads as quickly as possible on all devices.

This especially matters for mobiles as data speeds may be slower at some points, and this may affect your page loading speed too.

You should minify your JavaScripts, CSS, and HTML files. In addition, if your website has media (which it most likely will), you must optimize the media files. This is because these files typically take up a lot more data than text. Your goal should be to keep the file size as small as possible without compromising on the quality.

The web hosting plan that you choose will also affect your page loading speed. If you’ve got a limited budget, you may select a shared hosting plan, but that may give you lower loading speeds. A cloud hosting plan will ensure that your website loads quickly and doesn’t have a lot of downtime.

To check your page loading speed, you can use Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool will shed light on your page loading speeds for both desktops and mobiles. In addition, it’ll suggest changes that you can make to improve your speed as well.

Google PageSpeed Insights

Image via Google PageSpeed Insights

5. Optimize For Voice Search

Nearly 35.6 million Americans used voice search devices at-least once a month in 2017. This was an increase of 128.9 percent as compared to 2016. This shows a clear trend shifting towards voice searches.

It’s thus crucial for websites to be optimized for voice searches. As the voice search technology becomes more common, you’ll need to rank for natural phrasing rather than unnatural-looking keywords.

For instance, text searches may look like, “best web hosting blogs.” On the other hand, a voice search may be more comprehensive and could be something like, “What are the most popular web hosting blogs?”

You need to optimize for the second search phrase, and that means that you’ll need to get your long-tail keywords right.

Final Thoughts

To reach the coveted #1 spot on the Google SERPs, you must put consistent effort into building your SEO. Get your target audience right and find those who can influence it as well.

Develop your website to load smoothly and quickly on both desktops and smartphones. Make sure that it’s responsive too.

You should also optimize for voice searches. Document all of this in your SEO strategy to ensure that your team follows through with it.

What are the other ways you can reach the #1 position on Google? Let me know in the comments.

Full Transcript

Shane Barker:  Welcome to the podcast. I Am Shane Barker, your host of Shane Barker's Marketing Madness podcast. In this episode, we'll be talking about SEO and how to rank number one on Google. My guest is SEO Mozart himself, Rand Fishkin. He's a founder of Sparktoro and he previously he founded Moz and He's also the author of 'Lost and Founder', of painfully honest field guide to the startup world. He's previously written two more books 'Art of SEO' and 'Inbound Marketing and SEO'. So anyways, let's jump into the podcast. So where are you guys at right now? Are you guys in Seattle? Rand Fiskin: We are. Shane Barker:  Awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome. So cool. Like I said, let's go and jump into the podcast a little bit. Did you grow up in the Seattle area? Have you always been the Seattle area? I just want to kind of grab a little foundation people that don't know you. Rand Fiskin: Yeah, I was technically born in New Jersey but I moved here when I was three months old. Shane Barker:  Got you.  So you have been in Seattle the whole time. Rand Fiskin: I've been in Seattle, yeah, 40 years. Shane Barker:  God, its crazy man. Doesn't time fly? Rand Fiskin: It does it does. Shane Barker:  It's incredible to me. And then what about your family? Growing up, did you have your family moved from obviously from the east coast and moved over to Seattle? How big is your family? Rand Fiskin: Not very big, depends on the side. My mom has four brothers and sisters and so I've got cousins on that side, but my dad had only one brother and he died just a couple of years before I was born. Shane Barker:  Oh well. Rand Fiskin: Yeah, just before starting college. So pretty tight little family. I have a brother and a sister. Shane Barker:  Got you, got you, got you. And give us, what about any interesting facts growing up? Is there anything that you're like, nobody would know this but my family did this? Like my family, I'll tell you, I can give you an interesting facts that I've never told anybody. I think we were the first people to eat, oh god, what was it? It tasted like cardboard. There's like these veggie sandwiches and I think they're like the first ones ever made and I don't think they're made out of vegetables. I think was made out of cardboard or something and they tasted like, I didn't eat a lot of cardboard growing up, but I'm assuming that's what cardboard tasted like. It was absolutely terrible. So that's a random fact about me. Do you have any random facts growing up, like you know, we used to do this? Rand Fiskin:  Well, so let's see. My dad was a very thrifty person. I think he still is. I don't have a very close relationship these days, but when we were growing up was obsessed with coupons and saving money and getting great deals. He had a system figured out where he knew all of the managers of the meat departments at the various grocery stores around the rural area where we grew up. It was unincorporated, King County which is the county that Seattle is in. It was a good 45 minutes from the city and he would drive around to all the different grocery stores knowing which days they put their meat on sale. And Shane I cannot recommend enough that if you're going to buy something fresh, it should be mea. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: Because, you know, for all of the years growing up, for all the years that I lived with my parents, I had bowel trouble and I didn't really understand why. I just thought like, "okay, this is me. This is my body. I am someone who consistently has this problem." And then I left home and I started eating things, non-expired meat and my god, it's incredible. I'm great, I’m in perfect health. Shane Barker:  So you can look at things from two different angles and I'm going to tell you what the upside to what your dad did for you. Now you can actually probably go to Thailand and eat food off the carts, right off the streets, right.  Because as a kid you were ready for that. Like I mean, he actually trained you for the bigger journey of being able to eat off carts and stuff like that. Maybe that wasn't his goal but I'm just telling you, you really have to think, right? Like I'll have to go take advantage of that sometime. Let me know how that goes because I've only done it once. Because my wife's very adventurous, we're huge foodies. So you really see all the shows and you go to the carts and you go, "oh, it doesn't look that super." Like, you know, California like, "Hey, I think they had the health department come through today", which I don't necessarily think I need that until I go eat this phenomenal Taco. Man, that thing's amazing and then all of a sudden I'm you know, yelling at a toilet from both ends. But I think you might be a little more prep than I was for that. I'm not saying that's a good thing. But you know, if it comes to that, at least you're going to be ready for that. So that could be in the upside. But I do agree with you that I think if you have expired meat, it's probably not the way to go, right. I mean, it's like was your dad raised like in the depression? I'm trying to think of like, the timeline with that. Was it kind of a time where...? Rand Fiskin: No, no, no. My grandparents, were but my dad was not. My grandparents were not particularly terribly off, my grandfather was a Chemical Engineer. He grew up extremely poor and my grandmother too but they you know, they sort of had a classic 1950s style, middle-class American lifestyle. I think you know, it's fairly remarkable all of my ancestors are Jewish and they you know, they all came over before and during World War 2 and so they were essentially all refugees right. And ones who made it, ended up being my grandparents on both sides, but they were okay, right. They were like, I think there was more class mobility in the United States at that time as well. You know, my grandfather was super poor living in New York and his dad was a tailor which was kind of the only job he could do. And he managed to you know, get into a good public high school and then get into a good public college. Shane Barker:  Yea. Rand Fiskin: And when he graduated he was able to get a job in his field and make decent money. So I think that is much harder today, right? It's much less, there's much less economic mobility in the United States now than there used to be but yeah, they made it happen. Yeah. Shane Barker:  They made it happen, made it happen. That's awesome. So it's funny like my mom was a bargain shopper too. We didn't eat a lot of meat, so we didn't. My mom's like almost like a vegan or like a vegetarian but we didn't get the discount on meats. But my mom was absolutely a discount shopper like Marshalls, Ross, and Mervyn's, like we were like always looking for the deals. I remember like as a kid just looking through stuff and trying to find the deals. Whether that was a shirt that usually would have been 20 bucks was now $7 and then can we get 20% off of that. So I remember that like very vividly, in fact even today, I don't care if I have a million dollars, I'm always like "I got to see if I can get a discount."  I'm the guy that will go to Moz and then I see at the bottom, you guys say, you know, enter like coupon code. And I'm like, you know what that means? There's a coupon code somewhere right? So I've got to go search this and I'm going to go find this, and I will spend an hour which you know, I charge 2.50 an hour. So, I’ve spend $50 to go find this 10% off coupons that I can get six dollars off of you know, a monthly Moz thing or something. And then you know, at the end of the day it is what it is. Yeah. I'm all about saving that 6 bucks. Rand Fiskin: I agree with you. I've had the same behavior myself and I think this is a good reminder for SAS products that potentially you shouldn't put that discount code field there for everyone. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin:  Instead you should make it URL dependent. Because I agree with you, I think that actually lowers conversion rates significantly in the checkout process. And I don't think a whole lot of SAS product designers realize that. Shane Barker:  Related, I don't go to Ross very much but TJ Maxx is pretty much where everything in our house is from. Rand Fiskin: That's awesome. Shane Barker:  I don't know if you saw the report, I think it was just a few days ago, but basically. TJ Maxx is finally investing in their website. It's 2019, TJ Maxx which has been an extraordinarily successful retailer the last 20 years by the way. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. Shane Barker:  They have done very, very well and they've done it through providing this sort of experiential store. Going to TJ. Maxx's website to me doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. Shane Barker:  But going to TJ Maxx the store, makes a ton of sense. In fact that's the kind of place I think we'll survive and thrive even in the era of Amazon's domination of e-commerce and Google's domination of shopping. I'm a big believer in TJ Maxx. If I bought stocks, I would buy stocks in them. Rand Fiskin: You see that makes sense because you know, the thing is Shane and that's I think just because you don't always have to be online. I mean people think that you have to be. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: The problem with TJ Maxx is because their inventory always fluctuates, right? Do they go and buy some like in bulk of like, hey, we want this and this and then they go? Shane Barker:  Yeah. So they basically get, my understanding is they get over stock from a lot of different places. Rand Fiskin: Got you. Shane Barker:  And they do buy in bulk, but they save a ton of money because they don't have much if any warehousing. So everything they have goes directly into the stores. And so unlike a Nordstrom for example, right Nordstrom might have back stock and like warehousing issues. Even Amazon right, Amazon has this huge logistics supply chain and TJ Maxx sorts of sits at the end of that and they don't have to care about whether we have X or Y or Z in stock because they don't have a fixed product set. And I think that's actually pretty genius. Rand Fiskin: That is genius because I mean that's a lot of your costs right and it's just the warehousing of the product, now you just bring it directly consumer. Now for them, obviously the issue is going to be. Like, you know, I mean if you grab, I don't mean, I guess it just depends on, I mean, the only reason I'm saying this is like we did some stuff with the 99 cent store and one of the biggest problems was like what do you put on the website? Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: Because only in Sacramento and Seattle or in a certain area. So what they would do is they have these experiments and we have these little Facebook groups that people would talk about like the 99 cent store as an example. And they would say, "Hey guys, I'm here in the Seattle place and I just went and I saw they have the George Foreman grill for 99 cents." And so put some of it on Facebook and everybody would go, "I she crazy?" And then they would go over there and buy them also. And it's the same thing, I think TJ Max is going to have that same potential issue. Its inventory, like you only have so much inventory, so goes to these three stores. And how do you put that on your website? Is it like through an IP address that only you know, Shane gets and Rand gets a see it because it's at there. Shane Barker:  Yeah. And I think that's one of the challenges as I remember early days of Home Depot. Because a lot of folks wanted to have delivery of these big bulky items and so figuring out the logistics, being able to zip code yourself. And then the challenge too of, I think this is a big problem, IP address wise regardless is, "oh, I'm trying to help my grandparents get a new washer dryer. I'm in Seattle, they're in New Jersey." Rand Fiskin:  Yeah. Shane Barker:  I can't shop for them, right. I have to get a have to somehow VPN into their house in order to be able to go to Home Depot because they didn't have a reset your ZIP code to whatever. They just automatically detected. Yeah, these online offline issues I think is a big thing, but I'm sort of a fan of anyone who can compete against these giants right now. Rand Fiskin: Yeah, absolutely. Amazon, Facebook, any competition to me... Shane Barker:  It's healthy. Rand Fiskin: … to my mind in itself is a great thing. Shane Barker:  Yeah, you have to have that for the marketplace. And I think the problem is you know, they get so big, the cool part of your startup is they're a  little more agile and you have some, you can move a little bit better. You can start chipping away at it but you just have you know, it's like it's obviously Amazon and nothing against Amazon, but it's, I mean how many businesses, how many of you know low like brick and mortar businesses have shut down because of Amazon. I mean the numbers are staggering. It's absolutely incredible. In fact, I was at a conference, this was about a year ago and I remember there was a Director of Marketing or were a VP of Marketing for Marriott’s and they were talking about like what does he worry about in the marketplace? Because the only thing that Marriott’s are really worried about is that if Amazon gets into doing hotels. That was his only thing, like he was like that scares us because they're that disruptive. You know, they're jumping in the health industry, obviously with Warren Buffett and... which is you know, sometimes it's awesome. Like that's great in the health industry, you know, when it comes to insurance and stuff, maybe that's going to be helpful. But it's the other side of it, they start to get into the Monopoly type deal where it's like are they too big to fail which is you know, you know how that goes. But it is interesting and I do think it's healthy to have these other companies that are they're pulling up there their  coattails and seeing what they can do to disrupt stuff and you know still adds a little bit of balance that to the market. Rand Fiskin:  I am shocked to hear that Marriott’s worries more about Amazon entering their market than Google who's already in their market. That is mind-blowing. I mean Google is going to squeeze every penny of margin from the travel sector. And the big hotels and big chains are the ones who have the most to fear. Because they can they can just believe that stone dry. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Well, they've got Google flights and Google everything right? Rand Fiskin: Yeah, right. And they have trained, Google has trained consumers not to visit hotel websites, not to visit, you know individual OTAs. I would be losing my mind over Google and the fact that you know, like well what if Amazon starts building hotels? That feels so speculative to me and so unlikely. Shane Barker:  It was something else, like I said when he said that I thought wow, I didn't see that coming. Because somebody asking what is the biggest thing that you guys are worried about and he didn't even flinch, he said, "Amazon, that's the biggest thing that we're worried about." I was like, "holy smack reliance." So cool. So let's talk about how, you know, obviously I want to talk about Moz a little bit.  I know the history of Moz and I kind of listen to a few podcasts that you were on. I want to touch on that a little bit in regards to SEO and kind of touch on that but also I want to talk about Sparktoro as well as. Really intrigued when you started that just in regards to Influencer Marketing and the term influencer marketing and just some stuff that goes into there. So I mean, I guess it will talk about SEO, we'll talk about Sparltoro, we'll talk about some other stuff, and we’ll just kind of see where the podcast takes us. But tell us a little bit about Moz. I mean, obviously you started Moz, it was a number of years ago. Can you kind of go through that story a little bit, you want to give us everything there, but I just want t kind of talk about like what happened there and kind of you know, how you would start in the business? I know you talked about some stuff but you guys almost sold and there was some other things just interesting, just from a start-up perspective on how you guys ran things and the stuff that you've learned through that whole process. And I know it's only an hour podcast so I don't expect you to go into heavy detail. But just give us a little rundown about Moz and how you started it and kind of go from there. Rand Fiskin: Okay, yeah. So let's see, I'll try and give you the story in brief. I dropped out of college in 2001 and started working with my mom Jillian who'd been running a graphic design and sort of marketing one-woman show in the Seattle area. Then we got into web design mostly because her clients had started needing that and I was passionate about that world and ran a failing money-losing business for a few years. Eventually, we stopped being able to pay our subcontractors including the folks who were doing SEO for the websites, we were helping and building. So I had to learn myself because we had already committed to these contracts and I found that I really liked SEO but was also very frustrated about it. Particularly frustrated about the opacity and secretiveness and the unwillingness that Google and the other search engines had to share how things worked. Shane Barker:  Yeah, Sure. Rand Fiskin:  I thought security through obscurity was a terrible idea. I still think that right, I still think that Google could open source their algorithm and they'd be fine. You have nothing to lose and I think it hurts a lot of small and medium businesses, a lot of smaller practitioners because they can't compete against the... Shane Barker: ... break in. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. Exactly, exactly. So I started this website called SEO Moz that was specifically built to share what I was learning about SEO and help people understand and do it better. The blog sort of took off and I got an invitation to speak at conferences and events. And we got consulting contracts and sort of managed to save the business through that process. Then in 2007, we had built a little bit of software, not some really software, it's like six or seven little SEO tools. One of the SEO tools, we put them behind a PayPal pay wall because we couldn't afford the server bandwidth to make them open and free. And six months into that we were making as much money from subscriptions as we were from consulting. And I got pitched by some venture investors and local private investors about, "Hey, do you want to try and take this thing to the next level, raise some money?" And so we did and I became CEO and over the next seven years, we scaled that software business from a couple hundred thousand dollars to about 30 million dollars. I stepped down in 2014 from the CEO role during about less depression and promoted my longtime Chief Operating Officer to the role and she's been CEO for the last five years now, five years. Yeah, and then I last Moz 18 months ago, so beginning of 2018 on not terrific terms. I remain on the Board of Directors and you know, I'm still a Shareholder in Moz. I'm cheering for them to do well, but yeah, it was kind of an unfortunately not the best departure. Shane Barker:  Yeah. I know, obviously anytime you get capital, anything that happens and it becomes other people that are involved in your business, right? I think some people don't, I'm not saying you didn't understand this but I think some people don't understand what that means right. Like, oh, this is awesome, I'm getting capital, I'm getting the funding and this is awesome. But then there's a different set of rules, right and things change because you have people that have a vested interest in what you're doing and you're not quite in charge of your startup anymore. You're not driving the ship as much anymore. And I think some people don't understand that I used to do consulting early on, many moons ago with startups and kind of saying, "Hey listen, like that's awesome but you also have to really figure out what this means, right." Because not all money is good money and you have to figure out what do those terms of that? I think you touch on that a little bit in your book, 'The Lost and Founder' that you came out with, I think in 2018. Tell us about it. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. The book came out just about a year ago. Shane Barker:  Yeah and does that touch on, obviously, I'm sure it touches on your experience with Moz? Rand Fiskin: Yes. Shane Barker:   And it's kind of like this. What I love about you, you've always been a crusader for just transparency right and like, "hey, like, let me just shoot it straight." I don't think, just not a lot of people out there that I think are like for the people right. And I've always felt like you were that from an SEO perspective but also from an entrepreneurial perspective. And I think you're just extremely honest which is awesome because I think that's your frustration before you started Moz, was like, SEO is this little, you know behind the scenes, we can't really tell you what's going on and all this kind of stuff. Like wait a second, why don't we just talk about it? Like it's not a big deal, why don't we try to figure this out and there's power in numbers and let's work it out and figure out what we need to do to be able to do. Rand Fiskin: Well and I think the evidence speaks for itself, right? The more educated, the more effective, the more people understood how Google's algorithm worked and how to do SEO correctly, the better the web got for Google right? They were able to index more stuff, more people created better content that more people wanted. It infuriates me that they have maintained this attitude of secrecy and let's mislead people and you know all these public statements from their representatives that are just... Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: … easily provably false, right. Their congressional testimony in July right, where they cited some of my research. Shane Barker:  Yeah, yeah. Rand Fiskin: And then Google's representative in front of Congress right, is just lying boldface, and it's so obvious, right. Nobody who watches it, you could be the biggest Google fan in the world and you go, "Oh, I didn't know you could lie to Congress like that. I thought you had to tell them the truth, I guess maybe our Government doesn't work the way I thought it worked, right?" Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: I thought if you get subpoenaed by Congress, and then you lie there, you're going to be held in contempt and maybe they will be right, I don't know.  Maybe it's just a fine and that's why they don't care right because they just they can afford to just brush it off. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: But you still infuriating to me how deceptive and misleading that company is. And I know personally, know dozens, if not hundreds of people who work there who are good, honest, kind, thoughtful people and when they're confronted with this stuff, they're kind of like, "well, you know, that's just how it goes at a big company." Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: To my mind it doesn't have to be that way. Shane Barker:  And it's so funny, I think it's funny when you say it because I've done SEO for a long time as well. And it's, you kind of forget that there's other options, right? You're like, "oh it's always been this way." So you're like, "oh that's just the way that it is," but if you think about it, it doesn't have to be. And it's a very basic concept of, if you would just let us know then we could do things better. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. Yeah. Shane Barker:  And then everybody, there's a thousand websites and then everybody can check this and look at the algorithms. And I mean there's enough information to have a good idea of how to do SEO now because of the different software and everything. You would assume at a certain point, Google would say, "Hey, listen, let's just, let's all work this out. I'm just going to let you guys know when there's updates. We're just going to be very transparent in what we're doing." Because in theory, you are not supposed to game Google right, you're not supposed to try to get to the number one rankings and organically through... Rand Fiskin: Why not? Like, I don't understand that at all. The whole idea of creating a market,  right, creating a market where on the advertising side you bid more and you have more relevant content and you have better conversion rates and you're serving customers better. And so Google ranks you higher in the ads, right and they're very transparent about that. And then in the organic results, if you serve searchers better, you know your content does a better job, you get more clicks, you get more, you know, fewer people pogo-sticking, you get more links and more, you know, better reputation online and off and your brand improved, then Google's going to rank you higher there too, right. And the fact that they are unwilling to be transparent about what those things are exactly and so misleading so often about, you know, different elements everything from like, "oh, we're not really going to tell you what's going on with subdomains. We're not really going to tell you what's going on with how big a deal it is with mobile friendliness or site speed or those tiny little ranking factors." Are they really big and we're just saying they're tiny and little. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: There's a million other examples right. Every day I look at their representatives who are sometimes very helpful, I would say 70, 80 percent of the time, if you look at what they say, it looks pretty darn helpful. Sometimes it's still not the whole truth and then, you know twenty thirty percent of the time, you look at and you just shake your head and go, “I hope that person does their research and doesn't listen to that. That's such bad advice.” It's provably bad advice and it's really easy to show that and why are you doing that to those poor business owners. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: I don't understand. Shane Barker:  Yeah. No, I mean you do think that they have some kind of an ethical responsibility and I understand they on the search engine, right? But I think there is some kind of responsibility, it doesn't hurt them necessarily right. People are already trying to in theory game Google to become number one. So it's like if you just gave us a rules of engagement.... Rand Fiskin:  Yeah. Shane Barker:  So we know what we've got going on, then it's easier and you're going to have more people that... Rand Fiskin: Do the right thing. Shane Barker:   Now they know all the rules. If I know how to follow the rules and I don't want to follow the rules and I get in trouble and I get D in Dexter and I get slapped with the penalty, then okay, that was my own fault because I knew the rules of engagement. If you don't know the rules of engagement, this weird balance of like, "am I doing this right?" or "I'm not really sure." I mean, "I think I can do this and I guess we can kind of test it and we'll see how it works out." And it's been that way for how long?  I mean, I guess since the beginning. Rand Fiskin: Since the beginning. Yeah, I think this is one of those things right? Culturally speaking, companies inherit the strengths and weaknesses and attributes of their founders and I think Larry and Sergey are brilliant engineers. And the culture that they formed around secrecy regarding how the search engine operated is something that's persisted through two decades of Google's life. Shane Barker:  And have you ever talk to those guys? I mean, obviously you have kind of a directing and what I mean by that is because obviously you jumped on the radar and you start doing some stuff and I spoke to you and was like, "hey, we kind of need him as an ally in theory." Maybe they don't, I don't know. But have you ever had conversations with those guys or they are like, "Oh God, here goes Rand, like... Rand Fiskin:  I was supposed to be on a call, this was maybe 2008. I'm like that with Sergey when they were launching SpaceX and they basically were like, "hey, we would like someone to do, you know the SEO and marketing side of it." And I was like, "Holy shit! One of Google's Founders wants to talk to me about doing SEO for their big space and holy crap. All right, this is going to be awesome." I missed the call, and the next day was when I started looking for a personal assistant and getting a better calendar situation. That was, it was such an awful, awful day. Shane Barker:  You just look like crap. Rand Fiskin: And of course, you know I emailed the guys, I never got a reply from him or his office again. Yeah, that was it was me waiting on a phone call, they were like "screw all American business owners and worldwide right. Shane Barker:  Oh man. Do you think that's why they haven't been transparent at Google is because of what you did? Because of that day, do you think? Rand Fiskin: I mean having an assistant that's not... Shane Barker:  I'll show you. Rand Fiskin: I think I just realized that I was a little overwhelmed. Shane Barker:  Yeah. I mean no pressure there and I don't mean to put it all on your shoulders, but I think red correlation to you missing that meeting and not having an assistant. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. I mean, I think that... Shane Barker:  That is too, I was I like god how is this going to end? You guys jump on a call. Well, the irony of the whole thing, which I think is absolutely hilarious is, you have the owners of Google that are hiring somebody to do SEO. How ironic in the sense that you're like, I feel like you could probably get number one if you talk to a few people and Google, I don't know. Rand Fiskin: I mean you look at look at the tens of thousands of employees who left Google over the last 20 years and there's what maybe three or four of them who are in the SEO world now, right? So be working at Google does not mean, you know something about SEO right. I think that if you're an engineer and you're working on, "hey, I'm trying to build, you know, a neural network machine learning system off of a bunch of data that's coming in,"   that doesn't mean you understand how to build a brand online or how to reach out to people or what is going to resonate and get people to link to you or what's going to resonate with searchers and you know the kind of content they want to read. Shane Barker:  That makes sense. Rand Fiskin: It's a totally different skill set. Shane Barker:  So, yeah that makes sense. I'm with you on the brand new side of things but I do feel like from an SEO perspective, they could probably pull a few levers if needed. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. Shane Barker:  I mean that's how i kind of feel like since they own it but yeah, I get it that makes sense. And it sucks that you missed it. So, how was that that night, you were like what did I missed today? Having a beer, you're like talking to the wifey, "hey what's going on?" "Oh, shit, I forgot my meeting with the owners of Google! That's what it was...another day." What happened? You showed them, you're like, "you know what, I'm Rand, and you remember that? Okay. I don't have to make it to your little meetings, okay. Rand Fiskin: Yeah, I don't know. Shane Barker:  I got you. I got you. It makes sense. Rand Fiskin: I guess it depends on your definition of success. I always find it funny when folks are like, "oh, you know Moz was this big success." And I'm like, "well, it depends right, if it was a non-institutionally funded business then I think yes." You would say Moz is a great success. Grew very fast and built up an extraordinary reputation in the field. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: At least up until a few years ago. And I think that it, you know had a very positive impact on many people around the world in terms of their education and understanding of Google and SEO and I am proud of that. But the job of a CEO, the job of a company like Moz, is to return capital to the fund that invested in it, in the quantities that it's supposed to. That means realistically Moz has raised 29 million dollars. So it really needs to find a way to return 290 million dollars. I think from that perspective, Moz is kind of a little bit of a stuck in the middle company. It's growing but not very fast, you know maybe it'll do 55 or 60 million dollars in revenue this year and  has decent margins,  its profitable but it is not going to sell tomorrow for whatever 800 million, 700 million dollars in return, 300 of that to its investors. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, I will put up the good vibes. I hope it does do something like that. Hopefully something happens and then you can go grab your money and go buy Seattle or do whatever you need to do out there. Well, that's awesome and like I said, I've always been, I mean, I do have to thank you as an individual that jumped into SEO. You did help, for me as an individual and the people my company about understanding the transparency of it and really educating people. Because there was at a time when there wasn't tons of education about SEO right. I do think with the white boards and all the things that you did, I do think that had a huge impact. Whether you're having sold out, made billions of dollars or whatever but the idea of the transparency and what you did there for the cause I think is very admirable. And I think you did a phenomenal job and I want to thank you as a person, always been a fan because I do appreciate. Rand Fiskin: I had no idea. Shane Barker:   Yeah, I know. It's one of those things and maybe that's why I bought you dinner 10 years ago or whatever it was, I don't even know. Because I thought maybe one day he'll jump on a whiteboard, educate me on stuff that I don't know about.  Like magician on those, was it Friday's you did that whiteboard Friday? Rand Fiskin: Yeah, whiteboard Fridays. Shane Barker: Look at that, look at that. How many of those you guys do? Like hundreds? Rand Fiskin: Let's see, I did 52 a year because it was every week. Occasionally we did have guests, so probably five a year were not me. But yeah, I mean there must be 300 plus. Shane Barker:  That's awesome. Rand Fiskin: Maybe more than that because it would have been what it started in 09 and run until, I mean I was filming some early this year. Yeah. Shane Barker:  It's crazy. That was a long time ago man. I will ask you just this is a really great basic question, but in regards to SEO, what do you feel like hasn't changed? And what do you feel like is the three core things you're like, "Hey, from all the stuff that I've seen from whether building software, doing this, doing that like what are the core things"  most people should know this but what are the core things that you would say, "Hey listen, these things haven't changed its backlinks. It's creating great content. Like is there anything magical?" Of course, probably not. It's probably a lot of the stuff the same. Rand Fiskin: Yeah, I think that it's magical, that hasn't changed. When I say magical, I mean non-intuitive, but obvious once you think about it. Is that a lot of people create content and brands and products to serve their customers, right? Essentially, whatever, you and I set up a store to sell soccer jerseys and we think oh, you know soccer players and fans and people who like to wear athletic clothing, they'll buy from us. Let's make stuff for them and I think the big failure in that, and not that it's a bad thing, but it is not going to get you rankings in Google. Compared to people who figure out how to build a brand a message, a product that people who are likely to share and amplify work across the web want to link to an amplifier. Shane Barker:  Got you. Rand Fiskin: So it's like you have your customers and you have the world of influential people in publications who can amplify. And if you make stuff for your customers and not the amplifiers, you will lose out to people who make stuff for the amplifiers. Shane Barker:  I think that probably directly ties into Sparktoro, right? Rand Fiskin: Yeah in a way, absolutely. Sparktoro is designed to help you figure out who is influential and what publications and people are followed by a particular, any particular set of an audience. But, you know, even at Moz that was a core part of how you do link building right?  You have to figure out, "Okay, these are all the people who might linked me. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: How do I get them to do that? What can I do that they will all want to link to and share? And I think the folks who realize that built really successful businesses, even when their product wasn't necessarily as good. I think this is one of those frustrating things for a lot of entrepreneurs and product builders and engineers in particular. For some reason engineers hate the fact that marketing can win over a... Shane Barker: … a good product. Rand Fiskin: Can mean that right a subpar product beat a superior one. But I mean that is how capitalism works my friends. Shane Barker:  That is it, that is it. It can make your product great or it can make your product terrible, right. Marketing it comes down to that. Rand Fiskin: Yeah, and I mean the best is obviously the combination of the two. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: A great product and great marketing is going to be great marketing with a bad product. Shane Barker:  Yes. Rand Fiskin: Because over time, your reputation will suffer and people start to come to know not to buy from you, etc, etc. But great marketing can overcome a lot of product challenges. Shane Barker:  Yeah, that makes sense. When you say it out loud, I mean it's simplistic and what it is, you don't need to necessarily produce content for you the end user, you produce it, well great content that shareable, right. Content that people want to go and talk about right? Rand Fiskin: Yes. If you're doing content marketing, if your content strategy is we want our content to help us reach a new audience and to help us rank higher in Google and to help us get social shares in traffic and help us diversify our traffic sources and help our brand be known, then creating content for your customers, your end customers almost certainly will not get you there. Unless your customers happen to be people in media and social amplification and journalists and writers and that kind of thing. Shane Barker:   So tell us a little bit about Sparktoro. You did kind of touch on a little bit in regards of putting out content, find out the people that share that content and you know, maybe share competitors' content. First of all, you started what, was it two years ago, about a year and a half ago? Rand Fiskin:  Yeah, not quite about a year and a half ago. Shane Barker:  Okay, about a year and a half ago. Give everybody a little run down because I'm really intrigued about what you guys have been created and that was one of the reasons why I listen to a podcast that you were on. I want to find out a little more about that.  I've been in the, I say Influencers, I'm using my quotes in the air right now, as you know, on my podcast. The Influencer and this term that we have that's been kind of bastardizing, kind of been abused a little bit but in regards to like Sparktoro, what is your guys' goal with the software. Obviously we talked about audience intelligence. The idea is to be able to understand your audience and who sharing your content or sharing other people's content, give us a little rundown of it. Rand Fiskin:  Sure. Yeah. I left Moz, in was that February of 2018? Basically started Sparktoro next morning after I left and my co-founder is Casey Henry, who Casey and I actually work together at Moz a number of years ago and then he's been all over since then. Here's a TwistTia and HubSpot and Fuqua but yeah for the last 18 months, we've sort of been developing this product based on a theory that by crawling web profiles and social profiles and combining that data into a giant database, you could query against it and figure out the sources of influence for any given audience. So I could type in you know, whatever it is, electrical engineers in Canada and see which publications they read and what you know YouTube channels they subscribe to, which podcast they listen, to which websites they visit, which social accounts they follow, all those kinds of things. And our focus for this has been outside the, what's now termed Influencer Market. Because I think Influencer Marketing today means, "hey half naked people on Instagram to pose with your product." And we don't do any of that, right. In fact, we completely ignore Instagram for right now and that's an intentional positioning thing because we don't want to be associated with that Influencer Market in our initial product. So we're very much focused on this idea of audience intelligence, right? I can search for any given audience and I can see the words and phrases that they frequently use in their bio. I can see what words and phrases they often use in their content, when they're sharing things, when they're linking to things. I can see which, now again, I can see which YouTube channels I subscribe to what podcasts they listen to and which websites they visit and this is all inferred data through the sort of link graph of the social and classic web. Shane Barker:  Got you and that's awesome I think. Did you guys launched yet? No, you guys are still...? Rand Fiskin: We are in beta right now. So we've been in beta since the end of July and I expect the beta period will be another maybe two to six weeks and then we are hoping to have a launch sometime in October and November. Shane Barker:  Got you. So it's interesting to me because it's interesting that you guys intentionally didn't do Instagram right. Because obviously you think of Instagram, you really think Influencer Marketing. That lifestyle... Rand Fiskin: Right. Shane Barker:  I mean, you're obviously, we all want pink poodles and eat caviar on private jets, right? That's obviously my goal. I've got that up in my dreams board, but the other thing I'll tell you too is I actually teach a course at UCLA on how to be an Influencer. Rand Fiskin: How... Shane Barker:  That's why I laugh about this. Yeah. It's a personal branding and how to be an influencer course. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. Shane Barker:  So the idea of it is less of like "hey, you don't have to try to get the pink poodle any caviar and be half naked on a plane," if that's your thing that I guess that's okay. But really it's about personal branding like how do you build a brand. So we kind of pull them in with the Influencer Marketing and then I hit him with the like, "Hey, guess what? You're probably not going to be able to buy a private jet this year." I know that's kind of flooring and it sucks that I have to one to have to give you that news. Actually have them, probably those in my class already had private jets. But anyways, you get my point. When this is super, super awesome. The idea of the UCLA course for me was for them, they can still tell their parents, "Hey, I was going to be an actor, but now I'm going to be an Influencer." So now they've doubled their odds of being successful in the Los Angeles area. So I'm just here to keep the dreams of life. But what's interesting to me is what you talked about is the podcast side of things and the reason why I say that, is I have this podcast obviously, but I'm also guest on other podcast and  I would love to know like that audience, right. I'd love to know like either who's following mine but also who's following other podcast. Because I've done maybe at this point maybe 50 podcasts that I've actually been interviewed. The interesting part, there's three or four of them that have absolutely brought me the most superb leads, right. And I kind of get an idea of who their audience is a little bit. It's usually like these, actually both of them, two of them that were really good were people that what they do is they sell businesses, they help put business together and put together for packaging. And so what it is, they have a lot of business owners that listen to it and so it was a like both of them have been phenomenal interviews that I've gotten tons of leads from. And then I have other ones are like huge interviews in theory, huge interviews in regards to big guests. And the people that are interviewing me and stuff like that that I've gotten like zero great leads from. So that would be interesting for me and what's going to sure for everybody if you're in the podcast in the world to be able to take a look at that in your audience and kind of really break that down. So I'm really intrigued by that I'm going to sign up, I don't know if I've already done it, but I'm going to try to sign up for your guys for the beta and to take a look at that. And I love that. I think, obviously data is king, right? I mean if you're able to go in and get an evaluation and that's anything that we do, if you pull the information in and make it palatable and so people can take a look at it and understand what they're looking at and how you can leverage it, that's instant gold, right? Rand Fiskin: Yeah. I think what's nice is there's a ton of complexity on the back end but the front end is super simple. You search for you know, how your audience describes themselves or what they talked about or you know, which social accounts they tend to follow or which websites they visit and share or which hashtags they use and then based on your search, you just get back a list. There's tabs, here's which social profiles they pay attention to, here's which websites they visit and read and share. Here's which podcast they listen to, here's YouTube and here's intelligence about their profiles and that kind of stuff. And so you can just click and see this very simplistic information. My favorite part of the beta so far has been the feedback we've gotten on the interface which is just like, "oh this is super simple and intuitive right." It's just a list and they're ordered by like percentage of people who follow, you know percent of people that you want in that audience who follow that particular publication or account. I think that's a huge credit to Don Shepherd and Christine Wright who are our UX and UI designers, they did an extraordinary job. Shane Barker:  That's awesome. Rand Fiskin: They are contractors, you know, they sort of did it in their spare time. They both have full-time gigs, but managed to convince them to nights and weekends with us and that worked out great. Shane Barker:  That's awesome. So that's cool. So it sounds like you'll be launching probably in the next few months, right? You guys are still working on some of the stuff. Rand Fiskin: Yeah. Shane Barker:  I'm excited to hear more about that, so that will all be in the next few months. Tell us about, I did hear something, this is more on the personal side and my team is doing some research and I was trying to look this up. How did you propose your wife? I know this is a 360, we've gone from like, you know, "Hey, let's talk about Sparktoro," I know I know. Sometimes I just go into, this is why it's Shane Barker Marketing Madness, but like I told you like sometimes the medication doesn't work and I just start, "hey let's talk about your wife and how you proposed to her." So I did hear something epic about what you do with your wife regards our proposal. I just want to confirm it. Can you give us a little Intel and on what you did for the proposal? Rand Fiskin: Sure. I mean, I think you might be able to find it on YouTube still. Just prepare yourself for what you know 2007 Rand looked like. I bought a local television commercial back when watching TV when commercials was still a thing. And it aired during Geraldine's favorite show, Veronica Mars, which is now back on Hulu magically. Shane Barker:  Hello. Hello. Rand Fiskin: In fact, I highly recommend fourth season, the season that they did on Hulu. I think it's some excellent noir detective fun. And then I hid a camera in the room, so you can you can watch her reaction when the advertisement comes on television. Then I pull a ring out, yep, it was lots of fun. Shane Barker:  Knock it down, bud. Was it like just you coming up with that idea or did you have your whole team working on this? It sounds like a little..... Rand Fiskin: No. I was inspired by a guy in the SEO world actually who sort of have this idea originally. Oh gosh, I'm trying to remember, I can't remember his name now. But he had this idea and was running like a little blog to propose to his girlfriend during the Super Bowl and I think he was based out of Tennessee. And anyway ended up being a whole thing. But yes the proposal now, I mean, I think that it seems a little silly in retrospect, but it was very fun at the time. Shane Barker:  But you made some impact and that's awesome. Rand Fiskin: I mean, the only impact I really care about is, is Geraldine going to say yes. Shane Barker:  Yeah. Rand Fiskin: You know, do we have a fun story to tell friends and I think that worked out great. Shane Barker:  That's too funny. But anyways Rand, hey I really appreciate you taking the time today. I'm really like, I'm really excited that you remembered that I did that. I don't know, once again weird situation, don't know why I did it one of those weird things and it came back 360. Rand Fiskin: That was awesome. Shane Barker:  And it's awesome, you guys both remembered and it's even more awesome that you guys paid it for to somebody else and hopefully that kept going and hopefully... Rand Fiskin: Yeah, yeah. Of course. Shane Barker:   That is so cool. Rand Fiskin: That was a really funny experience. Shane Barker:  Well, that's killer man. Well, you know, you have a great rest of your Friday. I'm going to sign up for Sparktoro right now for the beta to test it out. If you guys ever need anything from me man, once again, I feel like I watched enough of your Friday whiteboard sessions that I probably owe you a lot more than just a dinner. But once again, I appreciate the impact you've made on the industry and how transparent you are, and I look forward to your successes of the future. Rand Fiskin: Oh Shane is my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Shane Barker:   All right Buddy, take care. Rand Fiskin: You too. Shane Barker:  Bye-bye.


Shane Barker is a digital marketing consultant who specializes in influencer marketing, product launches, sales funnels, targeted traffic, and website conversions. He has consulted with Fortune 500 companies, influencers with digital products, and a number of A-List celebrities.


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