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Rand Fishkin

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S: Hello, and welcome to Marketing Speak! I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, and today, I have the distinct pleasure of having Rand Fishkin on the show. Rand is my co-author on the first two additions of The Art of SEO, which is THE bible on search engine optimization published by O’Reilly. It first came out in 2009, and now it’s in its third edition and a thousand pages. Rand is the go-to guy for anything SEO-related so what a pleasure and honor it was to work with him on the first two editions. In fact, I remember fondly the moment where we decided that we were going to do a book together. I’m going to share this whole story, Rand-I hope you don’t mind.

R: Yeah, please.

S: I was at SCS Toronto, and we were in the speaker lounge, and Rand comes up to me, and he gives me a big hug, and I had never spoken to him before. I was really surprised and happy. I really had a ton of respect for him. He came up to me, hugged me, and said, “Dude, you really brought it at SMX Advanced in the give-it-up session. You were incredible!” We just started talking from there and then by the end of the discussion, we decided that we’re going to do a book together.

R: I can’t believe that’s actually the first time we spoke in person. I feel like I had known you before that, but I guess, maybe, that must be the case. That’s wild!

S: Yeah, it’s pretty funny. That was my first interaction with you in person-with you coming up and give me a hug, which was awesome, and I still remember that very fondly like it was yesterday.

R: Last Tuesday!

S: We ended up deciding to do a book together, and you know how synchronicity, synergy, and all that sort of serendipity-it all comes together, and the universe kind of sets you up to win so within like a day or two, we had O’Reilly as a publisher because it just so happened, at that moment, Danny Sullivan was at the-which conference was it? O’Reilly Foo Camp.

R: Oh, yeah.

S: He was at Foo Camp at the O’Reilly headquarters, and we pinged them and say, “Hey, do you have anybody at O’Reilly that you could talk to about getting us a book deal?” and he was right there at that moment. I mean, talk about being set up to win so within a day, we had incredible contact there who was like, “Yup, we’re really keen to do this.” We were going to do the SEO Cookbook, and then we started to work on that, and then we ended up merging with another project that Jesse had started, The Art of SEO, and the rest is history. Really fun story, and the SEO world has never been the same because that book has really, I think, set the course. It really is the bible on SEO so thank you, Rand, for playing such a pivotal role in SEO, in this book, and in my life. It’s just been an honor and a privilege to work with you. Let me finish this this bio here and we’ll dive right in. Your title at Moz is “The Wizard of Moz”-I love that! It’s a really fun title, and prior to that, you were the CEO of Moz. You’re also a board member for Haiku Deck, a presentation software startup. You are co-founder of Inbound.org, and you have just been prolifically publishing on the web for so many years. All your fantastic blog posts on Moz.com, formerly SEOMoz, and elsewhere. You also have active social media presences on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. You really do provide so much value to the whole webmaster community and have been for many, many years. When did you find SEOMoz? What year was that?

R: That would have been 2004. It was when the blog first started. In 2003, there was a sort of a precursor blog, but 2004 is when we use the SEOMoz name for the site. It was just a personal project at the time. I was a web designer, and I was trying to learn SEO, and SEOMoz was my sort of attempt at a little bit of a backlash against what I perceived to be a very secretive and opaque SEO world at the time, which is why I used the name Moz, which meant open and transparent at the time. Many, many organizations had it and now, Moz is kind of the only one that we were able to get the domain name, of course, which was kind of cool.

S: Yeah, that was quite a good catch to be able to get that and rebrand…

R: It did cost a little bit of money.

S: Well, yeah.

R: You know it was owned before us.

S: Yeah. These things don’t often come cheap-especially a three-letter domain.

R: Yup, yup!

S: Pretty cool! So, welcome to the show, Rand! It’s great to have you!

R: Oh, it’s great to be here, Stephan! All the kind things you said about me, I tremendously appreciate them. I don’t deserve them, but I also want to reciprocate. You’ve been, obviously, a fantastic co-author, but also a great presence for many years in the search and marketing communities. I know that there are many organizations that owe a lot of success to your help.

S: Oh, thank you! I appreciate that. Let’s dive in, and let’s start with Keyword Explorer because that just launched recently, and I’m loving that tool so let’s talk about it. How did you come about with the idea to create a keyword research tool or a keyword brainstorming tool?

R: Yeah.

S: What’s it based on, and how does it work?

R: Yeah, so a year ago-it was a little more than a year ago-I, essentially, put together this pitch deck. I was pitching the Moz team-the executive team and some of the teams internally here-saying, “Hey, I think keyword research is what we should work on.” I knew that, for example, Open Site Explorer-we have a big data initiative project to be able to-well, essentially-make Open Site Explorer much faster, fresher, and bigger, but it requires solving some intense computer science challenges, and I knew it was going to be a multi-year product process that I couldn’t really help out with much, and so I wanted to sink my teeth into something new while I was kind of waiting for that to make some progress. Keyword research is an area I’ve been passionate for a long time, but, basically, I asked a lot of SEO friends how they did keyword research, and everyone had almost exactly the same story, right? They would go to Google Keyword Planner, and they’d go to Google Suggest or to Ubersuggest, and then maybe some KeywordTool.io, and then something like SEMRush. They might use WordTracker, and they might use a handful of other tools, and then they’d take big CSV dumps from all these sources of potential key words, they put them in Excel, and then they’d sort through and filter them and decide which keywords they want to keep. Then, they go and grab volume data-maybe from something like the GrepWords API or AdWords, and then they go try and add data from a keyword difficulty tool-maybe Moz’ or somebody else’s-and the process was completely manual. They were building every one of these columns on their own, they were mashing up all the CSV sources on their own, and I just thought, “My God! The workflow alone is a multi-day project for what should be a few minutes or at most an hour!” Right? That process struck me as completely insane, and I thought, “Software can do this. This is something that software can help with, right? There’s no reason for this insanity.” AdWords, in fact, has the process down. It doesn’t work for anything except PPC. They’ve got the process where you build your ad groups, you bid amounts, and you decide which keywords to target, but for SEO, everybody was having to do it manually in Excel. It just sucked, and so that was my big reasoning behind it.

S: And also, what a lot of people end up doing is they all kind of said it and forget it. They’ll do all that hard work at the beginning, and then they don’t realize that you’re supposed to optimize your keyword portfolio over time.

R: That’s right.

S: Keywords, test to see what works and what doesn’t, iterate and improve, and then those continued non-performers get dropped off the list.

R: Yeah, hopefully. Just think about that-I mean, even that process alone is an insane amount of work. Let’s say you have a keyword list with a thousand keywords on it in Excel that you’re targeting for an SEO campaign, and you don’t really want to add or remove any keywords-all you want to do is just refresh the data. What’s the volume right now? How difficult is the keyword right now? Which star features are in there? Which ones have ads in them? Which ones have knowledge graph? Which ones have news results? Which ones have images? All that kind of stuff. Just doing that alone was hours, if not, days’ worth of work. When in fact, what it should be is, you click of refresh button on a piece of software, and it just goes and fetches all that data for you and fills in the call. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right? The whole point of software is to save human beings of how you do this. I made this pitch to the Moz’ executive team and to some teams here and the research tools team had some bandwidth to be able to contribute. They had to maintain the existing research tools, and they work on a rankings collections as well and stuff so they didn’t have all their time, but they had some time to give me. I worked with a designer that we hired named, Christine, and with this small group of engineers, and yeah, man, they built it. If you go look at that first slide deck, which I did put up on SlideShare, the internal pitch deck that I use, the product at the end really hits all those principles of what we’re trying to do. It has those features, right? The ability to go select a bunch of keywords and it automatically grabs all the data for all the columns, and there is one little refresh button at the top if you want to get your data refreshed in any given time so I’m kind of proud of them. This team stepped up, they got behind the idea, they got really passionate, and we worked with a ton of keyword research-centric and happy SEO’s to design the workflow, to test things out, to check if the data was high-quality, and build some unique data sources. We managed to buy some click-stream level data, which comes into us every month and gives us kind of a secondary source. Everyone’s always relied on Google’s Keyword Planner data, but now we have the secondary source of about a million searchers in the US providing us with anonymized click-stream level search data. It’s been exciting. It’s fun to go back to kind of the roots of building a product like I did in my first few years as Moz as a software company and get to go through that process again and then have people play with it and give us feedback.

S: Right. Does the Keyword Explorer have API integration capabilities?

R: Yes, it is powered by API. We haven’t expose them publicly yet. We’re still talking about how much volume we can handle and what we’d have to do with pricing and those kinds of things, but it’s a little bit of a challenge. One of the things Keyword Explorer does that’s awesome is, you plug in a keyword and it goes and fetches the actual search results from Google so that it can look at the search features, the ranking order, extract difficulty and click-through rate opportunity, and all these great metrics, but the challenge on the API side, of course, is if you want to make an API request that we then have to go make a fetch against Google, that gets pretty complicated. You probably don’t want to be charging directly for that, right? That has nasty implications, and so we’re trying to figure out what we can do with store data or just keyword suggestions or something like that.

S: Mm-hmm. Got it. Where do you see this tool heading? Are you going to expand it significantly? Is it going to be able to do any more advanced features like, I don’t know, perhaps mapping to existing pages of your website and kind of giving you a sense of direction like how you should be optimizing those pages for the appropriate keywords?

R: I think, yeah. On that front, that’s actually something that the Moz Analytics application, which is part of the same subscription, right? It’s all part of pro-Keyword Explorers like the keyword research tool, and then Moz Analytics does have a thing where it tracks pages, gives you suggestions, helps you optimize those pages, suggest related keywords you should be using on the page, and all those kinds of things. It also gives you a grade. I think we’re going to let that team and that product continue to handle that on-page optimization piece, but there are a lot of requests that we received for Keyword Explorer. One of the big ones, which is pretty obvious, is people want to be able to get very location-specific with their searches. So, rather than just saying, “I want Google United States data,” saying, “I want Minneapolis, Minnesota Google US data. Show me the results that I get if I were searching from Minneapolis and give me volume data for that,” so those are things-that localization is a piece that we want to help with. Some folks have asked us for better integration with Moz Analytics so that with a click of the button, you can just send all your keywords into your campaign, which we definitely want to get to. Folks have asked us about whether we can provide a little bit more of the competitive viewer data so, basically, being able to plug-in a domain or a URL and seeing all the keywords that that domain or URL ranks for as a way to get suggestions in addition to starting with a keyword. That’s something we’re going to be working towards as well. There’s a long list of features coming. We just launched six new ones last week, and we’re going to try to keep making progress, but it’s fun. It’s cool that I have a team that is dedicated to making this product better over time and then get to keep making new releases.

S: Right. Very cool! In addition to Moz Analytics and Keyword Explorer, you have some other tools that are part of the tool kit and those include: Moz Local, Followerwonk, Fresh Web Explorer, and just a bunch of tools.

R: Yeah!

S: Let’s talk a bit about some of these like Followerwonk-I love this old tool. For example, I use it to put in keywords related to different industries that my clients are in, and I’m looking for people who have listed in their Twitter bio that industry plus that they’re a journalist.

R: Yeah.

S: Right? If I’m wanting to get something out there about online retail and e-commerce, and I want to target journalists, well, they probably have put “journalist” or-

R: Yeah, or “author,” “writer,” “blogger,” or something like that.

S: Yeah, exactly, and then their beat-online retail or e-commerce or something so that’s a great use case for Followerwonk, but plenty others. What would be some your favorite uses for Followerwonk?

R: Personally, I’ll totally out myself here, but I, very frequently, do two things: One, I analyze people whose profiles very much impressed me-like people who have grown their accounts dramatically, especially marketers, because I’m sort of obsessed with what can I do on Twitter that will be more effective for my accounts and for my reach and engagement. I use the analyze tab for that. I will take a look-I do the “compare users” thing where I look at the overlap between a few users and try to see who they all follow. That is also of interest to me because it tells me kind of who the industry leaders are paying attention to in any given field. I like that a bunch. I actually do track my followers pretty carefully so for example, recently, I kind of wanted to see whether when I, for example, tweet slightly more politically-focused things-whether I lose a lot of followers from that, and the answer is not too bad, actually. It seems like most of the people who dramatically disagree or don’t like those types of things that I tweet have already stopped following me so I don’t lose a whole lot when I do it anymore.

S: I just interviewed John Rampton.

R: Okay.

S: And he has massively increased his Twitter follower base. He’d be an interesting person to study-

R: I should plug him in. What’s his account name?

S: I think it’s just @JohnRampton. Let me double-check.

R: @JohnRampton? Okay, yeah.

S: Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is.

R: Cool! I should check him out.

S: He’s got insane number of followers.

R: Oh, yeah?

S: He has 1.09 million followers.

R: Oh, man! That is quite impressive! Are those all organic or has he paid?

S: Well, he has some very sophisticated systems. You have to listen the episode to be able to know what he’s doing.

R: Is it already live?

S: Yeah, the episode just went live last week so-

R: Oh, cool! Okay, I will check it out.

S: You have to check it out. He’s doing some incredible stuff with building up a big fan base and setting up a platform for authority marketing, and he’s publishing an insane number of articles per week on sites like Entrepreneur.com, TechCrunch, Forbes, and Inc Magazine-it’s crazy. I don’t how he sleeps, but he, like I said, has a team that helps him, but all these articles are by-lined by him. They’re his articles, but he’s got a whole machine in place so that he can churn out dozens upon dozens of these major, high-quality articles in the course of a week.

R: Hmm. Fascinating!

S: Yeah. Anyway, Followerwonk is a great tool. I love that tool. Let’s now move to Moz Local. If you are doing local SEO, this is kind of a must, right? So, set-up your account with Moz Local and the top 15 citation sources and all that sort of stuff-can you walk us through it?

R: Yeah. Actually, Followerwonk and Moz Local are both acquisitions for us, right? Moz Local was run for years by David Mihm as Get Listed, and basically, his whole thing was-I think he really felt like all these local listing data aggregators and data sources trade everyone from Acxiom and InfoUSA to Google, Facebook, Foursquare, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and all these other places that take local data and create profiles that are then, eventually, found and used by searchers and, of course, by search engines as well. The local listings and the map listings are just a pain in the ass like way, way, way too hard for a local small business owner to deal with and even a pain in the butt for the local SEO’s to deal with. The process of getting listed in all those places is just nightmarishly frustrating, complex, takes a long time, and in fact, is kind of costly as well. We’re, basically, talking about a couple hundred dollars retail, and so David’s idea was, “Hey, could we basically aggregate all this stuff? Make it so that you submit your data once and then you can see it all the local listing providers update that information and the software will go out and check and make sure that everyone’s updating it, and show you anyone who hadn’t yet, and basically, go make a deal with them so that, ‘Hey, if we’re helping you get 50,000 new people on to your platform, how about you charge us less than retail and we pass that savings on?” so Moz Local is a very, very, very low-margin product for us. It’s $84 a year, and I think we pay, I don’t know, $60 of those dollars or something like that back to the listing providers so, essentially, we’re not really making very much on it, it’s more like a, “Hey, let’s help get folks their local SEO listings better optimized, and then hopefully, they’ll be interested in other SEO stuff from Moz.”

S: Yeah, kind of like a gateway drug.

R: Yeah, exactly! Hopefully, with no bad side effects-only positive ones.

S: Of course.

R: Obviously, David-for those of you who you don’t follow David, he was never a big fan of Yext, he felt like another aggregator that pass things on, he felt in particular that they did two things he really didn’t like: One, was charge a lot of money. I can’t remember-it’s a few hundred dollars-$400 or $500, and he felt like it should be much cheaper. The other thing he didn’t like was just that if or when you cancel your Yext subscription that they would stop passing the data on or pull the data back, and he didn’t like that. I’m actually not sure if Yext still does that. They might be better now. I know lots of folks who use them and like them. I think they have an exclusive relationship with OneProvider that Moz Local doesn’t, which is Yahoo Local, so Yahoo Local, you can’t even submit through Yahoo Local anymore, you have to submit through Yext,-they’re kind of the only option for Yahoo Local. In any case, this was the idea behind Moz Local and now, it’s got a few hundred thousand locations that folks have plugged in through there and have helped out. It has a good, nice, high retention rate, which means people like it year after year. It launched, I think, in the UK last year, and Canada is coming soon too so it’s doing nicely. It’s a small team here at Moz run by Dudley Carr. It’s doing real nice by helping local small businesses get listed.

S: Very nice! Yup, it’s a great tool, and Fresh Web Explorer and whatever other tools you want to talk about?

R: Fresh Web Explorer is-it’s funny-the one that I use the most. I almost think it’s not very popular-it’s surprisingly unpopular, but I am personally addicted to it so I think that it’s one of those, “Well, Rand’s the founder, and he loves it to death so I guess we’ll maintain it for him.” Actually, to be fair, lots of other startup founder-type folks use it. I got an email this morning from Dan Shapiro who runs Glowforge in Seattle, and he’s also a big user. Fresh Web Explorer-and when I say not popular, I mean, I think, maybe, it has 7,000-8,000 regular users so it’s still sizable, but not as big as some of our other tools. The idea with Fresh Web Explorer is, essentially, I love the concept of Google Alerts, but I hate the execution. If you use Google Alerts, you have surely had this problem where you program your brain, you’re like, “This list that they have emailed me every day seems totally random. The quality can be complete crap. Some of it is just scraped or it only shows me places that have mentioned me and sometimes, they don’t even mention me, or maybe they stopped mentioning me. I can’t see links to my site, I can only see text mentions. It’s not very comprehensive. It doesn’t track over time-“It’s just a bunch of terrible things so Fresh Web Explorer is my attempt to solve that. Essentially, it tracks either a brand mention or a link to a URL or to a domain, and then you can see all the news sites, blogs, forums-basically, anything with a feed or anything that updates regularly on the web that talks about you. That is handy for tracking your own mentions. It’s also very handy for tracking competitors’ mentions. If, for example, you are in the e-commerce space, and you’re competing with Zappos, and you want to see any of the press outlets that are talking about Zappos and a new shoe brand that they’re carrying, you can plug them into Fresh Web Explorer. If you want to see anyone who linked to that section of Zappos site, you can track that and you can get some X graphs and charts out of that for the last few weeks or for months. I really like that product. It’s a good one.

S: Yeah, for sure. One of my favorites, Open Site Explorer-so tell us a bit about some use cases for Open Site Explorer.

R: OSC is really a link data tool. It, essentially, provides information about who is linking to who on the web-who’s linking to your site? Who’s linking to your competition?-with pages and domains. The real strength of Open Site Explorer, at this point, is the metrics. Page Authority and Domain authority are source of the best correlated metrics with rankings out there. It’s got a nice, friendly, fast UI. A good way to sort of see how strong pages and domains are from a link perspective in Google’s eyes because Page Authority and Domain Authority are both strongly correlated with Google’s rankings. Essentially, you’ll see things that have higher page authority tend to rank better than things that have lower page authority. It’s obviously not the only input Google is using certainly, but from a link perspective, it’s one of the better metrics out there that you can get.

S: Yup.

R: That being said, Open Site Explorer, I think, is one of the projects and products where we have a long way to go. As I mentioned, our big data team has been working on expanding the freshness, the quality, and the size of the data set there. I think it still has ways to go. I’m hopeful that, eventually, that team will kick some butt and get us there, but in the meantime, I do recommend that folks bolster the data that they see on OSC with a couple of other sources. One is Majestic SEO out of the UK. I think they are a solid company. They have really good data, particularly, historic data and some really nice graphs that you can see there. Another one is Ahrefs, which I think is based partially in Ukraine and partially in Singapore. They’re a little bit of a quieter company, but they’ve got very good, large, fresh data set on a sort of raw link, data and metrics.

S: Yup. I use both of those tools as well, and they’re great. Link Research Tools is another one I like a lot too.

R: Oh, yeah! I played that with Helen in the more distant past, and it’s been a couple years now, but I have heard good things.

S: Yeah, it’s a great tool set. They have quite a number of tools. Once you’re in those, at least a dozen, maybe 15 more tools.

R: Wow!

S: Yeah, it’s good stuff.

R: It’s always amazing to me, right? The world of SEO is unlike so many other fields, even in web marketing. Now, if you talk to an email marketer, they, essentially, use their one email marketing tool. If you talk to someone who is doing a conversion rate optimization, they use their one kind of landing page testing tool and maybe a survey tool on top of that. But in SEO, we are using dozens of tools at one time, right? We’re all using streaming. We’re all using Keyword Planner. We’re using Open Site Explorer, Majestic, and Ahrefs. Maybe we’re using OnPage.org or DeepCrawl. Maybe we’re using Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, or maybe Mixpanel-it’s just insane! It’s crazy to think how many different tools SEO’s use, but it makes sense because there’s only a few pages or a few results that make it to page one, and so you’ve got to have the best of the best, and that often means using multiple tools.

S: Yeah, and trying to reverse engineer what’s going on with the Google algorithm requires different tools that are based on different algorithms that have different data sets and different crawls of the web so that you get a diversity of data and actionable insights back so that you can look for corroborations, you can look for trends that are in common because if you’re just basing it all on one tool, you’re seeing a lot of false positives.

R: Potentially, yeah.

S: Cool! I love your Page Authority and Domain Authority metrics, which a lot of people don’t realize is on a logarithmic scale, right?

R: Yes, that’s right. Yeah, so for example-

S: A 50 out of 100 is not halfway.

R: No, no, no. Well, a 50 out of 100 is dramatically stronger than a 40 out of 100, right?

S: Right.

R: It’s much, much stronger than a 40 is from a 30, and a 30 is much stronger than a 20 is from a 10. Yeah, you’ve got to be cognizant of that. I think some folks express frustration when they see that they’ve gotten a lot of new links, and they’ve only moved up a few points in Domain Authority, and they feel like, “Oh, man! I feel like I was making more progress earlier on.” (A) Domain Authority doesn’t provide you with anything on its own, right? It’s a good comparative metric and it’s useful because it correlates nicely with Google’s rankings, but it is not something to base your paycheck on. It’s a constructed metric, not a metric that’s truly indicative of something like traffic, or dollars, or return on investment.

S: Right, and it’s not like Google is connecting up to your API-

R: No!

S: -and using it in the ranking.

R: Oh my God! When I see the conspiracy theory threads about how Google is in cahoots with Moz and stuff, it’s just crazy to me. I can assure you that is not the case. We, sometimes, talk to folks at Google about one thing or another, but I can promise you they’re not consuming our data and using it. They have way better, bigger, fresher, and more accurate data sets of their own.

S: Yup. They are all powerful, essentially.

R: I mean, they have billions of dollars in engineering, resources, and people, and Moz has a few million dollars in those things so it’s several orders of magnitude difference.

S: Yup. You have a couple other metrics that are worth mentioning too: MozRank, which is your guys’ approximation of Google Page Rank on a 1-10 scale and MozTrust, which is your approximation of TrustRank.

R: Mm-hmm, yup! That’s right.

S: Often times, they get the question of “What’s the difference?” or “What’s the difference between Page Rank and Trust Rank or Moz Rank and Moz Trust?” and my explanation is that TrustRank starts from, instead of a random seeds at a site, it starts from a trusted seeds of the sites.

R: Absolutely! Absolutely correct! That’s exactly right. It’s, essentially, just biasing the Page Rank or, in this case, Moz Rank algorithm through a trusted seeds at a site so instead of every domain on the web starting with a very, very small amount of Page Rank or Moz Rank, it’s only these trusted domains that begin the calculation when you run the full graph metric. Essentially, as that iteration takes place, you see those things that more trusted sites link to more frequently acquiring more Moz Trust than they might acquire raw Moz Rank.

S: Right, so sites like Harvard and Stanford, except for the newspaper. FirstGov, National Science Foundation, and so forth would be sites that would be Trusted Sites that you’d start the calculation from.

R: Yeah, potentially. I think we generally biased against .edu’s because a lot of them have student and faculty control pages that those folks can modify however they like. But, yeah, I like a lot of government and organizational, not-for-profit NGO’s-those tend to be pretty good, and even some commercial sites. Google.com itself, for example, is quite a good trusted seed site.

S: Yup, for sure! That’s a handful of your different tools, which are awesome, and I strongly encourage all of our listeners here to sign up for a Moz subscription. What do you think about some of these other tools out there that are outside of the link analysis tools that we just talked about like tools for Enterprise SEO, for example?

R: Yeah.

S: What are some of your favorites there?

R: It’s a real interesting one so the Enterprise SEO world, basically, has kind of four or five big players at this point and surprisingly, I’ve been surprised that none of them have become much bigger yet. I think it will happen. The market leaders-kind of the three big market leaders right now are: SearchMetrics, Conductor, and BrightEdge. I think from a product standpoint, my personal sense in the sense that I get from talking around the industry is that, SearchMetrics and Conductor have kind of the strongest products right now, and BrightEdge is a very aggressive but quite successful on the sales side.

S: It’s very aggressive.

R: Yeah.

S: And not in a good way.

R: Yeah, at least the Enterprise SEO’s that I know have had-as you have right-have not always loved the sales process and haven’t had quite as much success with the product. That may change.

S: Yeah.

R: And then, I think there’s a few up and comers as well.

S: SEO Clarity? What do you think?

R: SEO Clarity-I actually have not used and haven’t heard mentioned too much, but the one that comes up a ton, and that I think has been winning some nice market share recently is STAT up in Vancouver. I think a lot of that is thanks to that product’s focus, and I think what Rob Bucci and the team up in STAT have built. He’s obviously built a lot of great relationships in the industry and that product has kind of gotten universal acclaim. It is very narrowly-focused though, right? STAT is pretty much exclusively a rankings data tool, but that being said, it also seems to be the one that people love the most. That’s how a lot of success for them. There’s a few others out there. You’ve mentioned Clarity. There’s RankAbove out of Israel. There’s AuthorityLabs, Service.com, and GinzaMetrics-which all have sort of variations on things. I mean, Ginza, perhaps, not surprisingly, is very strong in Japan in particular. Yeah, so that’s an interesting-

S: RankRanger is another one. They’re up Israel. They did some really cool stuff.

R: Sorry, which one is that?

S: RankRanger?

R: Oh, yeah! Actually, I haven’t checked them out, but I’ve heard them mentioned a couple of times.

S: It’s very cool. Very, very cool. Definitely check them out.

R: All right, will do! It’s an interesting thing, right? The size of the SEO industry would make you think that there would be, if not several, at least a couple of hundred million or multi-million hundred dollar plus software tools like there are in virtually every other web marketing industry-from email to content, to marketing automation, to conversion rate optimization, and on and on and on, and yet, I think, very frankly, in the SEO field, it is so hard to build a great product that has true product market fit that accomplishes enough for enough people. We still have a very nascent industry despite the fact that search itself has been around for a couple of decades now. I would say part of that is some stumbling from leading players-Moz is certainly included. A few years ago, we definitely had a big stumble at the end of 2013 and going into 2014 with a product that was not a great match, and we’ve been growing pretty phenomenally until that time, and then took a steep dive and now, I think we’re growing again, but I think that’s happened with a number of players, right? SearchMetrics had some stumbling, Conductor had some stumbling, I think BrightEdge is encountering some challenges, especially, as you noted, with their sales staff.

S: Yeah.

R: It’s a very unique field, and I think growing rapidly, but there’s no there’s no sort of massively dominant market player. If you go over to marketing automation or CRM’s, and you play in the world of Marketo and HubSpot-

S: And SalesForce.com.

R: Well, yeah, ExactTarget and a couple of other players. There’s just an immense amount of big operators with billion dollar plus market caps and acquisition sizes, and SEO has been left out of that a little bit.

S: Yeah. I predict there will be some consolidation in the space though.

R: Yeah. I think what we need from the business perspective, certainly, is we need some great products. I think that product is where a lot of this all begins, and some of that is not just data quality and product quality, but also user experience, ease of use, onboarding, and the kinds of things that some of the tools in other industries have gotten great at.

S: Yeah, and a lot of times people don’t know that you can even have a tool in that particular area. For example, I invented Gravity Stream.

R: Yes!

S: Back in 2003, and nobody knew that they could use a tool-a reverse proxy server-based tool to do SEO in a middle where kind of layer without having to do the massive invasive surgery to their e-commerce platform.

R: I think Gravity Stream was ahead of its time by a long shot. We’re seeing that reemerge with this idea of SEO testing tools. I think Distilled ODM is one of the ones that comes up at pretty much every conference I’ve been at in the last six months. I foresee the day when that is going to be standard practice, just like Optimizely or Unbounce. Everyone has it on their website. Every major publisher and major company has it on their website to be able to try out and experiment with changes to their site and can have a big positive impact on SEO, on user behavior, and those kinds of things.

S: Yeah, exactly! So, essentially, a CDN or Content Delivery Network for SEO.

R: Yup!

S: You’re making changes on the fly, very quickly adding tiny fractions of a second of additional load time without having to do all those major invasive surgery.

R: Yeah, and very frankly, you can see from some of these tests that sometimes just changing the headline, changing the title, adding some content to a page, thinking a little bit about the user experience, and modifying some things to maybe make advertising less heavy. That kind of stuff can often have dramatic, positive impacts on user and usage behavior, on a click-through rate, in search results, and on rankings.

S: Yeah. One other tool in space that I think is not recognized to be a resource for people is Outreach Automation.

R: Yeah.

S: Knowing that they could do something other than send out emails from their Gmail account, for example, for their Google apps to outreach, to influencers, to build rapport or relationship, and then ultimately to get links.

R: Yeah, and there’s definitely a risk there. Some of the automated tools do you have, I don’t know exactly what this is called, but the “piss-them-off” factor, right? So, you have to account for that and make sure that even if you are increasing your efficiency in reach, you are not, at the same time, harming reputation or a potential future influence.

S: Yeah. It’s all in the execution of it. Tools help you to scale and, at least, semi-automate, but if you are automating things that are just not a good experience for the recipient, you are going to get slapped.

R: Well, that’s exactly what spam is, right? It’s, essentially, unwanted messages at scale that then get low reputation sending scores. I don’t know if you saw, but I was fascinated by a study that Return Path did. I think that was just the end of last week, but essentially, Donald Trump’s political campaign, obviously, had tremendous number of e-mail addresses that they were sending to, but they had made some errors in the formatting of those in complying with the CAN-SPAM laws in easy unsubscribe, in address data, recipient opt-in’s, and all that kind of stuff. As a result, they had something like a 9-10% report spam rate, which is insanely high, right?

S: That’s horrible!

R: Ten times more than what you aim for in an e-mail marketing campaign, and as a result, a lot of providers were actually shutting down the messages that were coming from the campaign. They weren’t allowing them to reach the inboxes of people on Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail or Outlook or where everyone was, right? And these weren’t people looking and saying, “Oh, this is a Trump campaign, we won’t let it through.” It’s just the automated algorithms recognizing that these messages are performed poorly, and so that’s a huge blow because email is a massive way that political campaigns the last 15 years have been raising money, getting support, sending out their messages, and so it’s just a dramatic, dramatic loss, and when Return Path did this analysis, I found it fascinating. I think it’s a great case study in why you have to be so careful when you send large scale e-mail messages of any kind because that reputation and sender score just plays a huge role in deliverability, and even just being able to reach your audience.

S: Yeah, for sure. Are there any tools that you would recommend for outreach automation or scaling or alleviating some of the manual labor?

R: I have not found tools that I love for the automated outreach to be totally honest. However, on the data analysis side, I tremendously like FullContact, and we have used that at Moz a number of times. Essentially, we take our list-our email list-we run that against FullContact API, and then we get a lot more detailed level data about the email addresses that we do have, and then we can filter, bifurcate, and segment those lists and choose which folks we’d like to do outreach to, how we want to craft the messages to them, and we actually just made the move to Marketo for our email. I think before that we were using-you know I think before that we were using SendGrid, and both have-SendGrid is obviously a much more API-level, technical thing, and has a number of great things about it while Marketo manages a lot more of that for you in the UI, but yeah, I think for folks who are considering doing more targeted types of outreach and have large lists that they want to segment, filter, and get data about-even when you have the smallest, the Full Contact API can give you a huge amount of data about who’s on that list, job titles and descriptions, social media accounts, full names, and all that kind of stuff, which is, obviously, awesome for our reach.

S: Yeah. There’s another tool that has a kind of a component of what Full Contact does. It’s called Pitchbox.

R: Oh, okay, yeah! I got an email from them, actually. I haven’t played with it yet.

S: Yeah, it’s a great tool. I use it. I have my staff using it. One component of it is doing that analysis at the beginning-building a prospect list so you can put in keywords of different topics that you’re interested in for building an influencer database.

R: Yeah.

S: And you can set it up so that it has to meet a certain threshold score-a certain clout score or Moz Rank score or-there are few different options for different metrics that it has to meet in order for that person to be considered an influencer.

R: Right.

S: And that goes and grabs data about that person or people-let’s say that it’s a website that has a webmaster, a CEO, a director of marketing, and so forth, it will scrape the website for all those individuals and their emails, and it will also go scrape the Whois data of the domain to get additional context info, and then you can prioritize which ones you want to send to and which order so that it’s going to first reach out to, let’s say, the director of marketing, and then after that the CEO, and then after that the webmaster-

R: Oh, wow! Cool!

S: If within a timeframe that you set, there’s no response, and then you can have it do an automated follow-up so let’s say, you set it for 10 days-10 days of no response or it’s just an out-of-office response, it will send your next e-mail, which you can handcraft so you’re creating this table by yourself, or you’re starting from templates from a library that they’ve given you so you can follow up, but the idea is that you have to create something that does not feel like it’s an automated email like we were just talking about so, for example, if I were to outreach and ask people for quotes for an article I’m writing for The Huffington Post so I contribute to the Huffington Post-that would be a very legitimate outreach request because this is something that they’re going to get value out of. It’s not just like, “Hey, I’ve got this great buyer’s guide, and I want you to share it with all your readers because they are going to like it.” It’s like, “Yeah, no!” Right? If you have something where they’re going to scratch their own itch by doing something that’s mutually beneficial, right? If you’re creating some definitive article in a topic that they can weigh in on, and they have some thought leadership in that space, you’re adding value all the way around and starting at the beginnings of a relationship there so, ultimately, you’re not trying to build links to Huffington Post, you’re trying to build links to your own site. It’s a way to open the door and not just be all about, “Give me something” instead like, “You give something first.” Give and then get.

R: Very cool!

S: Yeah, so check that out. Pitchbox.

R: Will do, thank you!

S: It’s pretty awesome. One thing that, I think, we really want to cover here in this episode is the topic that you talk about a lot in recent presentations, and that we’re in a two-algorithm world now. Right? So, we’re trying to kind of reverse engineer an algorithm that, now, RankBrain is touching 100% of all search queries. RankBrain, being the machine-learning algorithm that is just the next step, of course, is artificial intelligence where it’s going to be so much smarter than us, and we’re just going to become like pets, but until then, we have this assistive machine-learning algorithm that’s improving the search results for us mere mortals, and then you have that kind of traditional sort of SEO of writing better title tags, doing your keyword research, running various forensic analysis tools on your site, looking for problems like duplicate content and malformed scheming out of work markup, and things like that. How do you live in this two-algorithm world and still have hope that all this isn’t going to just be kind of a waste of time ultimately?

R: Yeah, I mean, I think that this is something we’ve been going towards for a long time, and it’s not, particularly, scary in my mind, right? In fact, optimizing for kind of that second algorithm-the one that is governed by, in my opinion, machine-learning, mostly, on user and usage, right? Essentially, what Google is saying and whether this is ML or whether this is a lot of quality raters and manual input from engineers still, which Google sometimes argues that it is-that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Google wants successful search results, right? They want search results that result in people performing the query, clicking on a result, hopefully, that’s ranking highly, getting the answer they were looking for from that result, and continuing their journey, being satisfied and happy with what Google’s provided with them with. When that doesn’t happen, Google gets very nervous, right? I think that’s when they worry that something else will take their place, and so as a result, as an SEO, you now have these two jobs: You’re doing the classic forms of optimization right-essentially, keywords, links, crawl, rankings, right? I have to worry about my keyword research and my keyword targeting. I have to worry about links pointing to me, to my domain, and to my pages, and that they’re coming from good places and helping me to outrank my competition. I have to worry about Crawl, making sure that my website is well-organized, and I have to worry about rankings-where am I ranking well? Where am I losing out to competitors? Where am I losing out to serve features and all that kind of stuff? What kind of results am I ranking? Then, you also have to worry about the user experience. That, essentially, when people click on your result and they get to your page, that they are having, that you are answering their query quickly and effectively, that they are getting an enjoyable experience, that it’s the best possible answer and path for them to take on that step in the journey. If you’re not that person, you can expect that over time, you will lose out to the ones who are. This is, essentially, the two algorithms, right? One is kind of people and user experience, which Google is interpreting in a number of ways, and the other is Classic SEO, which Google is still using very, very heavily, and we can’t ignore either one.

S: Yup! And then there are people out there who say that SEO is dead. I go to the Traffic and Conversion Summit.

R: Yeah, what I hear from folks is, “I want all my competitors to think that SEO is dead so please keep preaching that message.” It’s wonderful when your competition believes that SEO is dead. That’s a great thing.

S: Yeah, right.

R: Because that traffic is a lot easier to get, and that’s the case. So stuff and I. I

S: How would people take the next step with Moz? I know that you don’t provide any kind of consulting offerings, but how would somebody work with Moz and take that next step?

R: One of the nice things is Moz offers a free trial so if you go to Moz.com, you can try it free for a month. Give it a spin and let us know what you think. I’d certainly love your feedback, and you’re welcome to get in touch with me as well. I’m Rand@Moz.com or on Twitter, @RandFish.

S: Awesome! Thank you, Rand, and thank you, listeners! Be sure to catch the show notes, the transcript, and we’ll create a checklist of action items to take from this episode at MarketingSpeak.com. This is your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off!