In this episode of Optimise This we chat with Rand Fishkin from Moz about keeping up with patterns now he’s no longer “at the coal face”, the role transparency played in growing the business, his views on ‘outing’ within the industry, overcoming anti-moz sections of the community, why they shifted from consultancy to software and the concept behind the new Moz Academy.
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Chris: Hi. Thanks for watching another episode of Optimise This. Today we’re joined by none other than Rand Fishkin of Moz. Although I’m sure you need no introduction to most of our viewers, can you please give us quick intro to who you are and what you do?
Rand: Yes. Absolutely. First off, thanks for having me Chris. I really appreciate it. I started a company called SEOmoz which became Moz many years ago. We were originally a consulting business until about 2007. And for about the last few years we’ve been making software. We’re based in Seattle, Washington, which is in the far northwest corner of the United States. And there are about 130 of us who try and build marketing analytic software to help marketers manage and track channels like SEO, social media, content marketing, brand mentions, links, etc.
Chris: Excellent. Okay. So now that you’re no longer at the coal face, so to speak, is it difficult to give relevant, honest information in the presentations and the likes of White Board Friday or if not, how do you keep up to date with what’s happening and working now?
Rand: Yes. I haven’t found that too difficult, although I would say my advice has become generally more strategic or high-level than it is tactical or boots to the ground. So I’m not doing as much to say, ‘Oh, hey, I noticed that this particular type of link seems to be very powerful and effective right now,’ or, ‘Hey, I’ve seen Google treating an .xml file wrong when it has these kinds of particular issues with it.’ I do a little less of that although I still get to observe some of it. And I do a lot more of, ‘Hey, here’s something I’ve seen big and strategic or overarching across several companies,’ or ‘Here’s something that our data science team uncovered while they were doing this type of research in a particular area,’ or ‘Here’s where we’re seeing lots of people, broadly, having success.’ Not necessarily one specific exploitable tactic. And so that’s what… I think that’s what most of the content that I write or that I present about or that you’ll see on a White Board Friday, for example, looks like today.
Chris: Okay. I’d be interested in your opinions on transparency with it being the first part of tag fee, and how do you feel that transparency has helped Moz grow?
Rand: Gosh, you know, I would say that it’s attracted a certain type of person to the company both internally and externally. That’s been a good fit for me at least. I think that’s oftentimes what core values are, right? They’re the values of the founders or of the early creators of a company or a project and they’re designed to help create a system of shared beliefs and shared goals and a shared mentality that means you can get through tough times and tough issues. And that’s been true at Moz.
In terms of helping us grow with transparency specifically, I think it’s been very helpful in times when we’ve waivered or let our customers down or when we’ve had problems for them to feel like: ‘Hey, you’re upfront and honest. We can trust you. We’ve seen that when problems have in the past you guys have always said what’s going on and why that is. You’ve talked about your strengths as well as your weaknesses.’ And so that, I think, trust creates a little bit more of a relationship. That’s meant maybe that we’ve kept customers with us for longer and through tougher times than we might have ordinarily.
Chris: Okay. Following on from that then, what’s your opinion on outing people in the industry?
Rand: Outing people in the industry. I assume you mean speaking about types of spam that are happening?
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Or if you noticed some well-known figure or a company’s been up to something.
Rand: I mean I definitely like the idea that there aren’t, that the world of SEO or the world of marketing is not some Mafia where we try and keep each other’s secrets from law enforcement or from Google, or that there’s some idea that we have a code of omerta or silence that we passively- aggressively shame each other into staying quiet. I think that those are all generally evil and wrong things in the real world and they apply equally online. I’m also not of the belief that some people who would take a different tack on this have, which is that Google is this evil super power that is sort of pushing down either on our intellectual or economic freedoms and therefore we need to adopt this code of silence in order to defend ourselves. I think that the world of marketing and the world of SEO is so big and so broad that that’s not really a consideration yet. Even though I do agree that Google’s doing plenty of evil things. Yes, so I’m not a believer in the language of what you described as ‘outing’. I’m not a belief that it is a thing at all.
Chris: Okay. Why do you think certain sections of the internet marketing community are so anti-Moz? And what do you think you could do to win some of these people over?
Rand: I haven’t seen us be specifically more targeted or hated or receive criticism that well-known companies in other industries receive, so I don’t think it’s unusual or unnatural. I think when we’ve, I would say, won people over or changed people’s minds who maybe previously disliked the company, it’s usually the result of them getting to know us personally. Right? So I think it’s very easy to have a strong dislike or a hatred for someone who you don’t really know. It’s much tougher if you actually get to meet and know that person. That’s why there’s so incredibly few people who we’ve actually spent time with, that I have or someone from our community team or people who work at Moz, who really, really dislike the company. I think it tends to be folks who either have anonymous internet handles or haven’t had personal relationships with the company. So I take that as a generally good sign. Unfortunately you can’t spend quality time with everybody.
Chris: Yes. Sure. It appears that the Moz metrics page authority and domain authority in particular are now considered the go-to metrics, and this appears to be the case across the whole community, whether it’s white hat, black hat, grey hats, everybody. What do you put this down to?
Rand: I think it’s the way the model is built primarily, and the… You know, this could be another advantage of transparency. I think we’ve shown for a long time that, and other studies have shown, too, that our indices, our web index Moz Scape isn’t as big as, say, Majestic or A-hrefs. It’s somewhere in the size range that Google web master tools tends to show you. Although they’re intentionally showing you a sample. We’re showing you everything we have, we just don’t have everything Google does. The metrics themselves are actually sort of what limit the size. And we’ve talked about this too, right? So in order to… If you just want to build a big list of rows of urls, you can do that with considerably less processing power. But if you want to take a web index and create lots of link metrics on top of it, things like Moz Trust which implicates trust rank or Moz Rank which imitates page rank or lots of other constructed variable metrics, page authority and domain authority do that, too, and that takes up a significant amount of computing power.
So the idea is basically we look at how Google ranks web pages, we look at all the features that we have, we build a machine-learning model to create page authority and domain authority and then we build that sort of ‘best-fit’ line. And so because the metrics tend to correlate best with how Google ranks web pages, I think that’s why you see people using them and trusting them more so than others. I think that makes a lot of sense, right? A raw link count is very manipulatable. Right? I can go and I can get 100 million links from a crappy link farm tomorrow. That doesn’t actually do anything for me. But if I get links that are influencing and growing my page authority numbers, I can generally suspect, because of the way that number’s correlated, that it’s going to increase my ability to rank.
Chris: Okay. Before you raised funding and before the software was on a path to become profitable, what made you shift away from consulting, given I assume, at the time you could have charged large fees to Fortune 500 companies?
Rand: Gosh. Could we? Yes. Right around 2007. We were starting to be able to anyway. I think it was really not a very conscious or thought out effort. It was more of a, ‘Hey, I think let’s give this subscription thing a shot. We already built these tools. We’re using them. They’re helpful to us for our clients. We shouldn’t just hoard them to ourselves. Let’s share them with other folks. We can charge whatever it was at the time, $29 or $39 a month, and let other people have access.’ And I think that experiment just turned out to work. It was not a very calculated or strategic move. It was just a ‘Hey, let’s do this thing.’
Chris: Okay. What’s the concept behind the Moz Academy? Do you feel it’s kind of infringing a little bit on Distilled and Hub Spot or are you aiming for a different audience from them?
Rand: Let’s see. I would say it is moderately similar to Distilled U in that it tries to kind of walk through some basics, but it’s actually more of a takeoff on White Board Friday. So the idea that we had was White Board Friday’s very popular. People seem to really enjoy learning this way. Let’s see if we can translate a lot of the Intro to SEO, Intro to Social Media, Intro to Content Marketing, Intro to Analytics, Intro to Link Building, all that type of content, let’s see if we can make that accessible all in one place, all kept relatively up to date and in the same format, the video format with the white board as White Board Friday. If that’s a way that people are learning, well, let’s make it available to them. And hence Moz Academy is now part of the Moz subscription. It’s not quite, you know, Distilled U is more of a ‘Hey, learn these things, here’s a test. You can get certification when you complete the packages.’ Market Motive has an even more in depth testing system. Hub Spot has, I think, a lot of free and as part of their subscription package paid content to learn stuff. But Moz Academy is really just White Board Friday taken one more level.
Chris: Okay. Excellent. That’s us done. So thanks very much for your time, Rand. I appreciate you’re really busy.
Rand: Yes. My pleasure, Chris.
Chris: Excellent. And thanks everyone for watching, and we’ll see you again soon for another episode of Optimise This.