Content reach and amplification will continue to be hot topics, Rand Fishkin believes, as It will be increasingly difficult to stand out with content. Those with the best combination of technical and creative practices will rank best.
Our influencer series continues with Rand Fishkin, perhaps better known as the Wizard of Moz, a software company Rand co-founded with his mother in 2004. Originally a consulting firm, and later a provider of SEO tools, Moz has now veered course towards a larger web marketing spectrum. Rand has also co-founded Inbound.org, which was sold to Hubspot in 2014. In his weekly Whiteboard Fridays blog, you will find him covering all things SEO.
In your Whiteboard Friday pieces, you've (among other things) talked about convincing small businesses on the importance of investing in SEO. I immediately drew a link to Employee Advocacy, where the task of convincing the management of its benefits can sometimes be equally challenging for some of the reasons you mention there. Do you think that with inbound so extensively replacing outbound, this task of pitching SEO and those parts of the funnel "not on the conversion point", which are sometimes harder to justify to sales, will get easier or more difficult?
Tough to say. Pitching SEO has certainly gotten easier in the last few years as the shady reputation SEO carried seems to be fading and the search engines themselves are more embracing of the practice and the field. I don't think it will ever be as easy to sell SEO as it is to sell paid forms of advertising. The ROI in SEO takes a long time to prove itself, and only those who best combine technical and creative practices will rank in the top of the search results, where all the traffic goes. It's a zero sum game since, when you rank higher, someone else necessarily ranks lower. That competitive aspect inspires some, but it turns off many others.
You founded Moz in 2004, when SEO looked completely different than it does today. Do you think it's an industry that requires constant adaptation to its changing digital surroundings?
Absolutely. The opportunities and practices in SEO change fairly regularly. We didn't have AMP two years ago. We didn't have knowledge graph 6 years ago. We didn't even have embedded maps and local results 10 years ago. SEOs have to stay on their toes for sure.
With more and more being demanded of companies to reach their target audiences, do you think that departments will have to work more closely together?
I believed that for a long time, but I'm coming around to the idea that, in many companies where these practices work, they work because the siloing and separation is actually a net positive for productivity. It's harder to work fast and produce a strong quantity of work when you've got a lot of process and communication overhead, and while collaboration is great, deep, heads-down work is great, too. If I had to guess, I'd say each successful organization finds its own path, and that doesn't always mean departments working more together.
What would you describe as the most important problems companies are having that Moz provides solutions to?
We're really providers of two kinds of solutions – the first is education and community. The content on Moz, the contributions to our Q+A forum, the great comments folks leave, and the participation on social media and at events/conferences around the world are all centered around education and creating opportunities for folks in the field. The second is our software, which is designed to help professional web marketers and SEOs get the data, reporting, and workflow they need to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently.
What do you identify as the most prominent mistake content marketers are making right now?
Producing content before asking the question "who will help amplify this and why?" If you don't have a great answer to that question, don't bother making it. There's a huge amount of content out there, but only the top 1-5% ever gets seen or shared – you want to be in that top percent because there's almost no value to being anywhere else.
In terms of building up brand preference, you mention that we're starting to link brand associations to humans. With initiatives such as Employee Advocacy establishing itself globally and influencers taking on major marketing roles, do you think this human type of brand amplification will take on a more important role in increasing or improving brand perception?
It's an interesting one. We're certainly seeing the rise of more individuals earning notoriety in their spaces and around their brands. I think a big part of that is due to the falling costs of media production and the rise of social networking. But, non-human brands have been having remarkable success in the past couple decades as well, and lacking a human face doesn't seem to be an impediment for many. I think this may be a case where opportunities are broadening in how brands can achieve recognition and amplification, but it's not necessarily cannibalizing classic brand formation or growth.
You highlight the necessity of having unique content to improve search engine rankings, and illustrate this through the example of finding a new approach to movie ratings. My question is, what will be the role of content quality, with targeting becoming such a vital metric for measuring content marketing's success?
I think quality alone, and uniqueness alone, aren't actually all that powerful or valuable. The content that works best resonates with your audience, earns their sharing and amplification, and provides unique value (which is different than just being unique or being "good" on their own). My position is that you can't just create "great content" and expect it to find an audience. You've got to find ways that your content solves problems that no one else solves, and market it to the audiences that have that problem and an interest in amplifying your solution.
You mention the pains of trying to access content that requires too many steps before it can be accessed. How important is it to provide quality content that is immediately accessible? Can one piece of content permanently drive more traffic to your site?
Whenever you have multiple steps to access content, you're going to turn a large percent of your potential audience away. So long as you're OK with that and understand the lost potential compared to whatever you're getting in exchange for completion of those steps, it's fine. Just make sure you're not under-representing the loss.
And yes, one piece of content can certainly drive traffic to your website for a long time (not sure about "permanently" - there's barely any such thing in the web world).
When you speak of social engagement, you refer to the "illusion" that reshares equal engagement, when in fact, people may reshare content and never even read what they're sharing. In June, we launched our Professional Influencer Index SmarpScore, which measures the engagement of the content brand ambassadors share, not only through reshares but also the number of clicks the links receive. This way employees can measure what content works and what doesn't and build upon their influence. Do you see potential in tools such as this for boosting companies' social engagement?
Sounds very cool to me. I love metrics that go beyond the surface level and provide real insight into engagement and potential value. Look forward to seeing how that develops.
Where do you see Moz and content marketing headed in the future? What are the invariables of what you will continue to offer your clients and what you stand for?
I think content strategy and creation have been hot topics the last few years, and my guess is that content reach and amplification are going to be the hotter topics in the years to come, simply because it's becoming so difficult to stand out from the crowd.As for Moz - we're doubling down on SEO software, and hopefully can become a world leader in that field.