Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin is one of the most influential people in the SEO industry. He is the founder of Moz, the leading marketing software company in this field.

The revenue of his firm grew from $800 thousand to $29 million over six years, and the number of annual visitors to their site increased from 1 million to 36 million in this period. At the Business of Software Conference Europe, he talked about the things he wishes he had done differently during his career and the decisions that he wouldn’t change.

I had a chance to ask him about content marketing and the creation of tools like the Open Site Explorer after his speech at the conference in Dublin.

On the stage, you said that you hate all the products and all the tools and that you hate yours a little bit less…

I’m just an incredibly picky person when it comes to products, particularly in the space of web marketing tools. So, I shouldn’t say I hate everything. Occasionally I find tools that have some particular function that I really like.

I was tweeting last week about postreach.co, which I thought to do a great job at twitter URL sharing and analytics. But I think it does pay actually as an entrepreneur to be very picky about products and to have a very high bar for what you think is acceptable.

What do you expect from your tools as a product manager and product designer? Do you agree with Gaudi, who said that whatever he does, it’s never finished?

It’s never finished, it’s never good enough, there is always something else and something more.

One of the things that I do as a product designer is to surround myself with people who do their individual elements of the product design. Experts in experience design, data architects who put together the information that powers the product, front and back end engineers, people who can help with the integration, conversion rate optimization and marketing specialists and so on.

I try to find people who are better at each of those than I am. And then my job is essentially just be a critic. To go and take a look at each one and say that’s good, here’s how it could be better. Or that’s good, but not good enough. Or that’s not even good, which I say a lot of the time.

But before I let something launch I really like it to be not just good enough but impressive.

Rand Fishkin

Photo: Betsy Weber

Steve Jobs always talked about the little big details and he micromanaged a lot of processes. What do you think about that?

I think this is one of the reasons that I like doing product management, and work as an individual contributor rather than a CEO.

I think as CEO you shouldn’t be a micromanager. It doesn’t make sense. Steve Jobs is an exception to this rule, and you have to be a very optimistic person to think that you’re the next Steve Jobs. You’ve got to have a really high opinion of yourself.

I don’t have that high of an opinion of myself. I would say that when I concentrate and focus on one particular product or a project like the URL explorer, I can do a decent job of being that critic. But I don’t think I could micromanage as a CEO.

You said that you’d like to hire fewer people but only the best ones. Many people told me that they rather do, for example, what Real Madrid did. They look for talented 10-year-old kids, train them, and then a few of them will become superstars.

I like Real Madrid’s approach but I only like it at a later stage. Early stage, when you’re starting a new club, you better get those incredibly talented folks. You can’t play professional soccer against Real Madrid or Barcelona or AC Milan with 10-year-olds. You’re never going to win a game this way. No one is going to cheer for you. You won’t get any fans.

You need these phenomenal players to help accelerate your new club, and then you can build a training program. So today, I think it’s great that MOZ hires a lot of junior people, who we think are smart and talented and can become the star players over time. And if some of them don’t live up to their potentials, that’s ok. We’re 215 people.

When there are only five people at your firm, forget about it.

What advice would you give to your younger self? How would you build up a company in today’s crowded market?

I like spaces that are not as overly crowded with venture-backed companies, where investors don’t like to put money for some reason or another. Maybe there’s a huge entrenched player that is totally market dominant and no one thinks that anyone could take them on. Maybe there’s a sector that people just don’t like for one reason or another. They have an aversion to it, they think it’s tacky or spammy or manipulative or doesn’t have long term potential. I like those fields and I would probably choose something like that.

I don’t think there is a specific process that will help you find your field. But you can stumble upon it almost by accident, just by keeping yourself open to the world. If you look for these little markers in things that you know you like, then these things sort of come together.

Rand Fishkin

When you do find your field, how can you convince five players to join you, if you have nothing and you’re just getting started?

I think one the great things that content marketing does for you is that it doesn’t just build up your audience for your future product. It also builds up your potential to reach employees or even co-founders.

It’s one of the things that Moz did kind of nicely for me. Back in the day, seomoz.org kind of built up its reputation, so a lot of folks knew who we were and some of them were potentially interested when we put out a job.

So actually, I like content marketing even from an employer standpoint.

Shifting to content marketing – we do content marketing and we spend a lot of time on research and outreach. Do you have any special advice in connection with them?

There are two things that I really like to do whenever I create content. I try to ask myself two questions. One is “how am I creating unique value”, meaning value that’s different than any of the other content on this topic.

Am I providing a unique data set that no one else has access to because I got my own research or I’ve crawled data on the web or I’ve found an API? Have I created a visual that explains everything in one very easy to digest graphic that has that high virality potential? Have I found people, a company or a founder or something else that nobody else has gotten access to?

If I don’t have that unique value I can write a really long and really great blog post but it won’t go anywhere.

The second thing that I ask is “who is going to help me amplify this piece and why”. Do I have a list of 10 people who are super passionate about my topic? If I don’t have that list of people who I’m confident will help me amplify it, I don’t make it.

You talk about creating content that creates unique value as passionately as you talk about your products.

It’s similar right? You want to get to that exceptional, viable product.

Rand Fishkin

How do you find people who can help to amplify your content?

I don’t necessarily look for the biggest influencers in the field, that doesn’t bother me too much. I look for someone who I know is passionate about the topic, or someone who has specifically asked about it.

So, for example, if I see someone who has asked a question like “Oh, I wish there were a tool, or a post…” Great! Now I can make that post and then I can ping them and say,”Hey, you know that thing you wanted, I made that, here it is”.

I like that better than sort of reaching out and saying, “hey, I mentioned you here”. I get a lot of those all the time and I ignore them.

Do you know of any great tools that can help you find people who are asking stuff?

Twitter search is pretty solid for that and Google is not actually bad for it. On Medium, you can do searches on that and it works pretty well, too.

I think that another thing that a lot of smart folks do is to identify ten or twelve websites where there’s a conversation going on. That could be like old school forums, or it could be a Google+ community. Google+ is a very, very niche social network nowadays.

It could also be folks who are having those conversations on podcasts or webinars or whatever. They identify where those conversations are taking place and pay attention to those until they see something coming out of it.

Rather than proactively creating content they reactively create content, based on what they see is going on in an industry or in a forum.

Reactively creating content – it feels like instead of push marketing you pull people in.

Yes. Like I know three people who talked about this topic recently and I know that they are all interested in it and then I make that; I just do the thing that they want.