Blogger, entrepreneur and self-proclaimed ‘Wizard of Moz’, Rand Fishkin, spoke to us about success, failure and everything in between.
Where it all began
For our readers who are less familiar with your work, tell us a little about how you became the successful marketer, entrepreneur and author that you are today?
"My particular journey has been marked with a lot of failure and a lot of learning, and I’ve tried to stay aware and humble along the way. One thing I’d say is there’s a huge difference between being an entrepreneur and an aspiring entrepreneur, and I’d put myself in the aspiring bracket.
Moz is still a work in progress, we haven’t yet returned the investment to our investors or our shareholders, but fingers crossed it will continue to develop and do well. I would caution anyone against assuming success at the beginning of their journey, but being open and honest has been a big part of what has got me to where I am today."
So you founded Moz back in 2004 with your mother Gillian. What was your primary motivation for starting the company?
"Initially Moz - or SEOMoz as it was named back then - was just a blog. Prior to Moz we had a web design and web marketing consultancy business, which wasn’t doing as well as it could have. This inspired me to learn about search engine optimization and document my findings, so others could benefit from my journey.
Unfortunately, search engine optimisation was a very secretive and distrustful world back then and there were lots of people spreading conflicting information. This made researching quite challenging at times. The blog itself was quite experimental to start with, but after a while I started discovering some trends and my pieces started getting quite a lot of engagement.
I think it’s wonderful that in the 12 years since then SEO has become a much more open field – sharing is the norm, there’s open discussion on Twitter and forums across the web, which is really good for the community."
I’ve personally learnt a lot from Whiteboard Fridays - they’re such a smart and simple idea. You can come away with great snippets of information that you can start putting into place straight away.
How do you go about measuring the success of sharing this type of content, in terms of ROI and its impact upon your subscribers?
"We’ve always been more passionate about content for the sake of learning and helping the community, and a little less concerned about how this contributes directly to Moz’s revenue - and oddly enough, this has helped contribute to it a lot more.
When you invest in something authentically because you believe it can help people and you can directly see how it’s doing that, it’s often a greater path to success than something you are doing purely to generate revenue. I’ve seen a lot of people shut down content marketing efforts because they can’t see an instant return in investment, and it’s sad… but it’s also great for those folks who choose to continue.
Content is an investment that requires a lot of time, patience and iteration because it doesn’t have a quick ROI like advertising, or email campaigns do. With Moz, we like to look at simple metrics - like how long people spend on each piece of content, how many pieces of content they consume, the amount of subscribers who sign up after their free trial period, pages viewed per visit etc.
And the stats are fairly obvious and intuitive – the more content someone consumes, the more likely they are to be invested in us, and our software."
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Research, research, research
At the Learning People we understand the importance of keeping up to date with industry trends. As an incredibly busy man, how do you set aside time for your own personal development?
"This is actually something I’ve always made time for since I started out as an SEO professional, and I feel like recently it’s become a lot easier. When I started out in the industry, I used to visit about 10-15 blogs a day and also visit news articles and tech sites, but now thankfully there are some great tools that make researching simpler.
News aggregators like Inbound and Hackernews are really great at allowing you to view everything in one place, and sites like ProductHunt keep up with the latest tech and products launches.
And of course, Twitter is great - I get 60-70% of my news and information about what’s happening in the world of SEO from tweets and then I try and help amplify and broadcast my findings."
I agree, things have become a lot easier for us now. Are there any individuals in particular that you like to follow, or is this always changing?
"It does change quite a bit. Earlier on in my entrepreneurial career as CEO at Moz, my investors were huge mentors to me as well as funding providers. So Michelle Goldberg from Ignition, Kelly Smith from Curious Office and Brad Feld from Foundry.
Danny Sullivan, who now owns Third Door Media and Search Engine Land has also taught me a lot, and Dharmesh Shah, a good friend of mine, and one of the founders of Hubspot, has also been a really remarkable and positive influence to my career.
More recently I’ve been inspired by people like Larry Kim from Wordstream, who does incredible data and analysis work. So yeah, I’ve had a lot of great influences throughout my career."
Thanks, I’ll have to get following. You mentioned earlier you’ve had some successful business ventures, and some less successful ventures – is there anything advice you’d like to give to yourself if you could start things over again?
"Yeah, I’ve actually written a blog post about this recently. There are several things I’d like to say to younger me, but there are two things that really stick out.
Firstly and most saliently, I wish that in college I’d studied software engineering because it would have of had a really positive long-term impact on my career. I’ve self taught some programming to help me keep up, but it’s probably been about ten years since I’ve written a full line of code.
The software engineers at Moz are amazing, but I’d love to be able to have a more of an impact what they do. Right now I’m limited in what I can understand and that’s actually quite frustrating. Learning to code is such an invaluable skill and it’s something that’s only going to become more and more important.
Secondly, I wish we had a lot more focus with Moz.
I wish we had tried to do less, but done it better. It’s huge challenge for many entrepreneurs – they want to build everything they think of and in doing so they limit the time they can spend on the things they can do really well. When you see a piece of software or a tool that you think you can improve, it’s difficult not to try. Especially when you have a lot of the underlying tech and data to be able to do that."
Speaking of innovation, a company that I love at the moment is Kickstarter. How do you feel about these incredible companies facilitating the growth of exciting new products and tech?
"Oh I think it’s terrible… I think you should be forced to get kicked out of hundreds of offices along Sand Hill Road, by guys in business suits that drive Teslas…. I mean that’s pretty fulfilling… ha, no, I’m just kidding - I think they’re awesome.
I participate with similar projects like Indiegogo and Gofundme and I think it’s a wonderful trend. If you can get a community excited about something and it’s a product you believe you can actually deliver, then it’s a great way of getting your product to the market.
The world of venture capital investing can work okay for some people - we’ve actually now raised $29 million now at Moz - but it’s a very limited source of economic activity generation.
If you can fund from people that are passionate about your product, that want to see you do well, then it’s much more fulfilling than seeking funding from investors that are primarily concerned with the financial return.
There are still loopholes and challenges with these services that need to be fixed – products that don’t get delivered on time, companies not passing over the funds straight away and loads of other things that need to be worked on - but on the whole, it’s a great trend and I hope it continues to develop."
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So, finally, you’ve dabbled in a lot of different things throughout your career. You founded Moz, you’ve written books, you’ve even presented for the United Nations – what’s been the most unusual thing you’ve done?
"Yeah, speaking for the United Nations was a really unusual experience… although it was quite a few years ago now.
The Secretary General visited Seattle with some other folks from the UN, and myself and a couple of other guys in the Seattle tech and marketing world presented to them.
We spent a few hours with their senior staff, discussing ways in which they could leverage search engines and social media to amplify their messages to reach a wider audience and it was an interesting experience.
I’d actually say it was a fairly frustrating as well, because the United Nations is staffed by incredible, thoughtful and caring individuals, but it’s also hampered by tremendous amounts of bureaucracy.
There are also loads of historic processes that have built up over the last century that restrict a lot of what they can do, and it’s tough for everyone involved.
It was a very different experience and I feel like I learned a lot from it."
Where to catch Rand
Well thanks Rand, it’s been great chatting. Right now Rand and his team are working on Moz's new keyword research tool - a project that makes it easier to choose the right keywords, to maximise your results.