An Interview with Moz’s Rand Fishkin: Up Close and Personal #TAGFEE

We’re off to see the Wizard — the Wizard of Moz, that is: Rand Fishkin! He’s keynoting Pubcon Las Vegas 2015, and he’s the latest guest in our distinguished speaker series.

(Last week, we spoke with Search Engine Land editors Danny Sullivan and Ginny Marvin about what to expect at SMX East later this month. Watch it here.)

Rand illuminated topics including:

  • The ROI of giving away information via content/Whiteboard Friday
  • What he’ll be addressing at Pubcon
  • Google’s new logo and rebranding
  • The war between time, energy and budget inside marketing teams
  • How he brings the values of TAGFEE to life and work

Kristi Kellogg: Whiteboard Friday is hugely popular. How does Moz measure the ROI of giving information away?

Rand Fishkin: That’s a tough one. That’s something obviously you folks at Bruce Clay, Inc. do really well — and many of us in the industry have started to find value in that. But there’s not a clear and immediate ROI calculation (for giving information away).

For us it starts from a place of a core value: we want to be transparent and we want to try to make the operations of search engines, social media platforms and content transparent.

That’s almost bigger than an ROI calculation. It’s more of a mission, for us. That being said, we do have some pretty cool metrics that we’ve built up over time. Moz has this dashboard … called 1Metric. Basically it lists all the posts we’ve put out, including Whiteboard Fridays, and has a lot of metrics beside it, including: social shares, new links coming in, the total number of linking root domains, as well as onsite metrics such as time on page, engagement rate, browse rate, etc.

From all of those things, our data science team built an algorithm that correlates with visitors who eventually end up taking a free trial. We look at whether someone eventually, after many, many visits to Moz — takes a free trial and whether or not that particular piece of content was part of that path and then this algorithm provides the best correlated combination of all of those different metrics into a single metric. Then you can sort the posts by one metric each month and see which one did the best.

KK: It works for everyone – people get great content and you guys eventually get people to sign up for free trials. Everybody wins!

RF: Hopefully! We promote tools from our competitors and all that kind of stuff. It’s about doing the best we can for our community and the marketing world. We’re not exclusively focused on how to turn content into leads.

KK: Well, that sounds very TAGFEE (we’ll get to that later in the chat). But, for now, let’s talk about what your Pubcon keynote will focus on.

RF: I’ve been deciding between a few things, actually, but I suspect what I’ll be focusing on is a look at the ranking elements that Google is using today along with some specific deep dives into experiments that I’ve been running at Moz and as part of the IMEC Lab group. The Pubcon audience tends to be a more technical, advanced group and they like to see interesting and new things they haven’t seen before in the SEO world.

TAGFEE_ Transparency, Authenticity, Generosity,

KK: What do you think are the biggest trends in digital marketing that we should be watching out for?

RF: I think we’re experiencing a little bit of tension in the digital marketing world between the desktop/laptop world and the mobile world. And I mean that in terms of:

  • Where content is hosted (web or app)
  • Whether I should be putting things on my platform vs. other people’s platforms
  • Where should I spend my time and energy? Should I be spending my time in the classic inbound marketing avenues like we’re doing today with this Hangout — creating content, hopefully sharing that social and earning traffic, emailing subscribers, etc. — or the paid media platforms, especially now that there are so many content amplification platforms that exist

All of these different tensions are warring for time and energy and budget inside marketing teams. And some of those decisions are being made very strategically by companies that have tested and invested in these things, and some of these decisions are being made from a place of less intelligent analysis.

I think it’s up to marketers like you and I to help everyone who’s investing in digital marketing understand the trade-offs, balances, wins, and losses that are inherent in all these different platforms and mediums.

KK: When you rebranded SEOMoz to Moz, what to you did that say about the notion of SEO being dead?

Totally honest, it has nothing to do with SEO being dead. I will say that when we made this change I had an assumption about what the digital marketing world was going to do, that did not come true.

My assumption, which turned out to be wrong, was that people who did SEO would shift to focus on not just SEO but content marketing and social media and other forms of non-paid, organic digital marketing channels. That turned out not to be the case … There’s some overlap, but it tended to be the case … that SEO continued to be its own practice. One of the reasons we made that switch was that we thought SEO was going to grow to be bigger than just SEO, and that has not tended to be the case.

Another big reason we made the switch was we wanted to be able to do things that aren’t just SEO. For example, we knew that we were going to be buying FollowerWonk. We knew that we wanted to be able to offer social media tools. We knew that eventually we were going to launch a content product (which I think will happen later this year or next year). So, in order to launch something that centered around content, for example, it’s weird to have that come from something called SEOMoz and it’s much more natural to have it come from a company called Moz.

KK: That’s definitely more inclusive to take SEO off – and now you get to be the Wizard of Moz instead of SEOMoz.

RF: For sure. I forgot — it was mostly about the pun-iness of my title.

KK: Speaking of rebranding, Google unleashed its new logo today. What are your thoughts on the new, sans serif Google?

RF: I suspect that it has more to do with Google’s internal teams wanting an update and a fresh feeling, especially going forward around brand unity now that they’re separate from Alphabet. I don’t think they looked at a bunch of tests and said ‘Oh man, nobody on the Internet likes serif fonts anymore and so we need to go flat.’ I suspect it’s a little more of Google under Sundar Pichai, their new CEO, saying, ‘This is our Google now.’

KK: Well, it’s a fresh look.

RF: You’ll be able to tell very easily if a slide deck or screen share was taken before Sept. 1 2015.

KK: Let’s talk about TAGFEE. TAGFEE represents the core principles of Moz: Transparency. Authenticity. Generosity. Fun. Being the exception. And empathy. How do you live out those principles on a daily basis?

RF: No one, myself included, is perfect at exemplifying or living TAGFEE. It’s an aspirational value set. For me, a big part of being TAGFEE means sharing who I am, what I’m learning, what I’m thinking, and even how I’m feeling, very publicly. I think that another big element of my job is continually pushing teams inside Moz — our marketing, our hiring and recruiting, our on-boarding, our intra-company meetings and the way we get things done internally — to represent those values and to try and identify when people have done a great job with representing TAGFEE and rewarding them with praise and recognition, and when people are doing not so great a job representing TAGFEE to quietly nudge them and say, ‘Hey, this could use some work and here’s why.’

It goes deeper too, right? I’m working very specifically with two teams at Moz that are working on a keyword research product and a big part of TAGFEE there is trying to balance out things like generosity with revenue. How much can we afford to give away this tool for free and how much can we afford to make these API calls to various services, and what margins do we need to make this a scalable business?

And then, in terms of transparency, how do we make a keyword density score that’s more transparent, more honest, and more realistically represents how difficult it would be to rank for a given keyword? Is it more transparent or less transparent to factor in CTR, for example?

KK: In your latest Whiteboard Friday video you talk about the importance of creating content that is outstanding and highly relevant, and then nudging influencers to notice it. The question of influencer marketing made me wonder who you consider the top five influencers in digital marketing.

RF: I’ve been trying to identify influencers who I think bring a particularly excellent and new perspective:

  • Amber Naslund, SVP of Marketing at Sysomos. She shares some great stuff, that’s often outside of the box that I am in and that’s great.
  • Marie Haynes. She’s all things google penalties and penalty recovery. She has tremendous insight.
  • Cindy Krum, CEO of Mobile Moxie. She’s terrific. Really, really impressed with her.
  • Gabriel Weinberg, founder of Duck Duck Go. He shares a surprising amount of marketing information. He recently wrote a book called “Traction.”
  • Joanna Wiebe. She does a lot writing, content, editing, marketing and analysis. Very data-driven and opinion-driven — very very smart.

Bruce Clay, Inc. has a special discount code for our readers: 15 percent off Pubcon 2015 registration with the code: ex-2072615. This code is good for 10 registrants. If those spots are already full, you can still use our 10 percent discount code (good for unlimited registrants!): ex-6104410. Register here. See you at Pubcon!

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (15)
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15 Replies to “An Interview with Moz’s Rand Fishkin: Up Close and Personal #TAGFEE”

Great interview. Watched the whole video. Got a great value of information.

Hi Kristi

Really enjoyed the interview with Rand. You asked quite a few in-depth questions. I liked Rand’s explanation on why they rebranded from SEOMoz to just Moz…It was both a strategic and important step forward to get away from the idea that Moz is only SEO. Rather, they bring a much larger presence with a variety of in-depth topics.

I also liked the list of influencers that Rand provided.

Cheers and make it a great day…

Thanks to Rand for the nod (he’s aces in my book, too!) and to Kristi for the great interview! Thrilled to be mentioned in some killer company. :)


Hi Kristi,

thank you for this great interview with Rand! Very usefull tips from him. I think, it’s not enough to be just perfect on SEO. One of the most important thing is to provide really good and helpful content for you customers. If you do this, you will definitely have more success. ;-)

Thanks for also asking concerning the new Google logo. And interesting opinion that it was mainly because of internal issues.

I read in a lot of comments that the new logo is much smaller, but in fact, if you check the website with WebPageTest, Pingdom or Firebug you can see that things are different than presented in the media. Not sooo much change, if you see all elements that get loaded …

Rand and Moz both are always impressive. The interview gives a good insight of information and got a lot of helpful tips for my site by watching this great videos. I personally Rand and he has always something new and innovative which is awesome. Cheers!

Great Information in the post

Hi Kristi,

Great interview. The video interaction is very nice and after watching it got a lot of useful tips and information from it. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Hi Kristi,

Great interview i would say. Loved the choice of questions you asked to Rand. Got a great value of information from the search market expert. Thanks for sharing such valuable post with us.

Love Rand! The whole team at Moz have the right vision and are really driving the industry forward.

Great post. Thanks for sharing.

I watch his videos every Friday and it helps me exploring more ideas for marketing which I implement on my marketing and design strategies.

Hi Kristi,

Great interview and your questions are very impressive i would say. Watched the whole video can found many useful tips from Rand. Thanks for sharing such valuable post with us

I am going to read traction. I am following Gabriel from quite some time now. He is a marketing genius. Great interview Rand. Loved every reply !

Thanks and Regards,

Rand Fishkin is really awesome, he’s very talented and smart. nice interview.


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