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A presentation given by Rand Fishken for the Digital Marketing Pattaya event, produced by DSA Global


Wizard of Moz

Howdy everyone, my name is Rand Fishkin. I’m the CEO and founder here at Moz. And I’m very excited to get to present to you all at DMP Pattaya. I apologize that I couldn’t be there in person, but hopefully this video can be helpful for all of you. I do hope to make my way to Thailand someday for a visit. I would be very excited to go.




Howdy everyone, my name is Rand Fishkin. I’m the CEO and founder here at Moz. And I’m very excited to get to present to you all at DMP Pattaya. I apologize that I couldn’t be there in person, but hopefully this video can be helpful for all of you. I do hope to make my way to Thailand someday for a visit. I would be very excited to go.

So, I’m going to start by talking a little bit about the future of digital marketing in general. And, I think one of the things that we’ve done in the past in the SEO world in particular and in other aspects of digital marketing, is we’ve been very tactically focused. Meaning, we’ve thought, “Oh, I want to rank for this particular keyword so that I can drive traffic to my site. I’m just going to get some links and some anchor text and have a page.” Or, “Oh I need to have a Twitter account, I’ll just go set one up and start tweeting random promotional links.” “Oh, I need to do some e-mail marketing, so I’m going to build a big e-mail list and I’m going to send them all some mail.”

And these things are very tactical. They’re not strategic. They’re not connected. And more and more, what we are seeing and feeling in the digital marketing space is that those who execute on tactics, even those who execute very well, are losing to people who have the big picture, the strategic element. And what I mean by strategy is understanding, “Who is my audience? Who are the people who influence my audience? Where are they on the web and how can I reach them? What’s going to appeal to them? What is it that, when my audience sees it, or when the influencers of my audience, right, the well-followed social media accounts, the bloggers, the journalists, the thought-leaders, the writers, when those people see my content, what is it about what I’m doing that will make them want to share with other people?” And if you can’t answer that along with answering, “How will this help me get customers?” you’re missing a huge strategic element of digital marketing. And I would really encourage all of you to think about that.

So, yes, we should consider channels. We should think about, “How could search help me? How can I be more successful with my SEO? Which social media channels are right for my business? Do I really have customers who are on Twitter, or Facebook, or Google+, or LinkedIn? And do I have people who influence my customers who are on those networks? Because if so, I should be reaching them there. Are there pieces of content that I can produce that will resonate with my audience or with my audience’s influencers?”

And then, “Where am I struggling in my conversion funnel? Am I not getting enough traffic at the top of my funnel? Am I having trouble converting people who visit my site into people who are actually interested in my products? Is it, people are interested in my products but they just never seem to get to that final sale transaction, pick up the phone, send me an e- mail, subscribe online, whatever that conversion action is? Or, am I good at all of these things, but I’m not good at keeping customers and getting customers to become repeat customers? In which case, I might need to focus more deeply on my product.” If you have this strategic picture and this big vision, and you can connect all of these individual tactics, your chances for success are so much greater. So I would encourage you to think about digital marketing with that framework.

And that said, let’s go dive into some questions that you guys had for me. So, the first one comes from Barry Padgett, who asks, “Do you think automating backlink creation using software is OK, assuming that things are set to submit in the same way a human would?” One such example would be, this is the example Barry gives, using SEnuke XCr for the social network module, what’s your opinion on that? Barry, I would say my opinion could best be summed up by the words “Danger, danger!”

I would be very concerned about using automated systems, even if they’re set to submit in the same way humans would. I’d actually be concerned about nearly any type of link that is built in a scalable fashion, whether it’s a human being doing it, whether it’s a machine doing it, some piece of software doing it, whether you’re hiring folks on Mechanical Turk, or bringing them in-house, or even doing it yourself, any of these submitted types of links where you just go to directories or open comment places, or build social media profiles, are dangerous. And I know that’s going to sound weird, because you’re thinking to yourself, “But come on, everyone builds social media profiles. How could me building a few dozen or a few hundred social media profiles be all that bad? Lots of companies have dozens or hundreds of employees who all have accounts. Why is it any different?”

And the answer is, that the engines are just getting really sophisticated around trying to identify non-editorial looking, non-natural, non-earned link profiles. And they’re not perfect at it, so you can certainly see plenty of sites that seem to be using these tactics and having success, but I would say long-term, you’re going to get yourself in serious trouble. I wouldn’t do it.

Next question comes from Chris Bassett, who asks, “It seems that Google is putting less and less emphasis on keywords and rankings data. How do you think that an SEO can give a client metrics that have meaning now?” Chris, I would agree that Google is, because of personalization, localization, device specific things, social biasing from your Google+ logged in accounts, that kind of stuff, is making the absolute ranking, or the logged out, non personalized, generic ranking, less meaningful; however, not completely meaningless. And I do think that in aggregate rank data about, “Hey you have this group of 50 keywords that you care about that’s currently ranking in the top five for most logged out users, I think that’s still an important metric and a valuable one that we can use to get at least a leading indicator. ”

It’s no longer the KPI that it used to be because it’s: a) not perfect for everyone, and b) very hard to know what traffic each of those terms and phrases are driving. But because Google has taken away a lot of our keyword referral data with not provided, I think this is still an important metric to have. That said, I would be looking at things like the trend of visits you’re receiving from search, where those search visits fit into your overall funnel, how they convert, the time on site, and the user and usage data about the customers that you’re acquiring through search versus other channels. I’d look at multi-touch attribution. So it’s gotten bigger and more complex, but I don’t know that I would take keywords and rankings entirely out of the picture. I think they’re still an important and valuable metric. Certainly something I still care about and measure, even with regards to Moz’s website.

Third question comes from Cornelius VanderHoven, and Cornelius asks, “How can I be good at SEO without having to kiss Google’s ass? Is there any other option that’s worth preparing for?” Well, Cornelius, I’m going to interpret that to mean, “Are there things that I can do that Google hasn’t specifically given their blessing to that are going to help me with SEO?” And I would argue, in large part, that the answer really is yes. So Google has this very, you know, a lot of their sort of marketing on the subject of SEO is very much like, “Hey, sit back, relax, don’t do anything unnatural, don’t do a lot of active stuff to help your SEO.”

But I don’t think that’s the real message that they should be conveying, or the right one. So, for example, I think doing active SEO, concentrating on, “Hey, these are keywords that are important to us, that we care about, these are concepts and topics we care about, and we’re going to make sure that we have content in those areas, visual assets in those areas, empathy for our customers that’s displayed on our website in those areas, be thought leaders and contributors to those areas.”

Proactively, I think that’s a very positive thing. Likewise, I think fixing up a website to make it accessible to the engines and optimized from a keyword targeting perspective, optimized from an indexation perspective so that things are close together, these aren’t things that Google likes to talk about obsessively, but I would say they are important. I would drive towards them. And you don’t have to be nice to Google, right? I have been plenty mean to Google plenty of times, and Moz still seems to rank fairly well. So there’s no algorithm that says, “Well that Cornelius, guys, has been awful mean to some of our employees lately. We better penalize his site, thankfully.”

Next question comes from Chris Armstrong. Chris asks, “As a small business with an equally small budget for marketing, what should I do to my site in the first few months that will get maximum results that I can then hand over to the experts?” And Chris, this is a tough question that a lot of small business owners and marketers have been asking themselves for years and years. I really like finding the intersection of where you have passion, ability, and where your audience can get value. And that could be through content production. It could be through speaking at events and attending conferences, and participation in the real world. It could be through thought leadership. It could be through video. It could be through social media.

If you find those channels that you’re good at and you enjoy and you want to keep doing, where your audience actually exists and will value your participation and contributions, and you have the skill and potential to outperform your competitors there and provide real, unique value, I think that’s a great place to focus on. You can kind of go hedgehog on that. I think about Moz, right? In my first five years, all I did was blog. I just blogged night after night after night, Monday through Thursday night. Sorry, Sunday through Thursday night, every week, for years. I think it was four or five years every night except for, you know, major U.S. holidays, I’d be on there, blogging away, trying to write something of value, trying to create something that people would want to read and would find value in. And I think that helped to build up a lot of intuition for me and empathy for our customers, and created a great community. So that focus worked for me. That might not be the right one for you, but I’m sure you can find one.

I might be mispronouncing your name, but I’m going to say it’s Critapon. Critapon asks, “What are your thoughts on page rank, and do you think that Google is phasing it out to prevent PR, page rank, manipulation?” You know, I think Google is actually phasing it out mostly because they don’t want to expend the resources to support it. Google has this internal strategy that Larry Page is very passionate about around more wood behind fewer arrows. We’re going to invest in less projects and so when someone says, “Hey, we need a few engineers to come and work on the page rank machines that produce them and put them in the toolbar.”

I’m sure the managers there are like, “Really, is that a high-value activity that we should be spending our time on? No. We’re going to ignore that.” And so, because of that, page rank isn’t being updated. I kind of take Google at their word for that. I also think that, with other metrics out there in the marketplace, things like page and domain authority, which Moz produces, so it’s a little self-interested coming from me, but with those types of metrics, page rank is not very valuable. Even when it was updated, it was so infrequently updated, so relatively inaccurate and hard to measure across sites, it was just kind of a mess.

The last question we had is from Ben Powell. And Ben, interestingly enough, asks, “Have you got a personal relationship with Matt Cutts, and should we believe everything he says?” Ben, that’s a fascinating one. I’m not sure, I mean, Matt and I have certainly met many times. He’s been into our Whiteboard Studios here at Moz and given some good talks. He’s commented a few times on the site, and he is certainly, I think, trying to help Google spread their message to marketers and to the SEO community, which is great. He’s been much more transparent the last five, six years than he was in the years before that, which is also terrific.

But, yeah, I would say we have a professional relationship, not a personal one, but certainly, I think, have high opinions of one another, generally speaking. And, might have some professional disagreements, but that’s a good thing in a professional world. In terms of believing everything that he says, I think you should, generally speaking, and I, generally speaking, believe him, but I take him to be a very cautious communicator. Meaning that, if you parse the meaning of the sentences, the words, the phrases, how he structures them, his intention is to oftentimes provide information with an out, in case there is one.

So, I’ll give an example. So, Matt might say something like, “We don’t directly use Google+ plus ones of a URL to influence the ranking of that page for a logged out user.” And you can take that to mean several things. You can take it to mean, “Oh, Google+ signals don’t matter at all for how a page might perform.” That would be the most broad interpretation. Or, you could take it to mean only very specifically exactly what Matt said, which is, “We don’t directly.”

Well, that means that they might be using it indirectly or secondary metrics that are associated with it, or in some aggregated sense that isn’t a direct input use Google+ plus ones. Well, does that mean they use shares, they use activity, do they use some combination of other things, right? All I’m getting at is that when Matt speaks, he speaks very cautiously and I think it’s up to us to interpret what that might mean. Sometimes the meaning is very narrow, sometimes it’s very broad, and that makes for a good bit of interesting discussion in the SEO world.

All right everyone, I hope these answers to your questions have been valuable, and certainly I’m happy to follow up. You can tweet at me or e-mail me, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you. Take care.

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Benjamin S Powell

CEO & founder at DSA global
A Digital Marketing expert and CEO & founder of DSA Global. Ben has over 10 years experience solving complex business problems in both client and agency-side roles.

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